What turned my children into bookworms

In the eighties, Stockport Schools Libraries ran a highly successful Book Club, in association with the area’s primary schools. Children were given  a printed leaflet of book titles, went to their local library – how tragic that so many are closing –  and chose a book from the list. When they had read ten books and written  a very short review or drawn a picture on an official form, followed by a chat about it with either their class teacher or their local librarian, they were awarded a bronze badge. After twenty-five books it was silver, and after fifty, they struck gold! All gold badge winners were presented with their badge and certificate by the Chief Librarian at a school assembly, and photos of the event often appeared in the local paper.

My nine-year-old son was galvanised by the Book Club and began devouring books. His six-year-old brother, not to be outdone, soon followed suit. What a pleasure it was to eavesdrop occasionally as they chatted with one another and with friends about books they had all read. One gem I remember was: ‘Nah! didn’t really like that one ‘cos, you know, the lock on that treasure chest would definitely’ve been corroded by then and they could never’ve opened it, just with the key they found!’ My sons are now both in their thirties and remain avid readers of fiction.

I understand that now the Library Club has evolved into the equally successful ‘Reading for Gold’ club, at which children meet once a week to choose a book, and come back the following week for a ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’- style session of chat and quizzes, with special visits from authors, storytellers and poets.

Initiatives such as this are vital to nurture the reading habit. I have just read about the Department for Education’s plan for a national reading competition in the autumn for children in the last three years of primary school and first year of secondary school. There will be local, regional and national prizes for children who can read the most books. The Department for Education is considering bids to design and deliver the competition, and will make a further announcement later.

Based on my own experience, I’m totally in favour of such a plan and hope that librarians and libraries will be fully involved – and that there will not be any further closures.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Daily reading to children boosts social and emotional development

New research finds daily reading to children could reduce number of 3 to 5 year olds with socio-emotional problems by 20% . Whilst making clear that these findings are only part of a complex picture and should not be seen as a panacea for problems caused by inequality, Professor Yvonne Kelly, who helped produce the research for the Institute for Social and Economic Research, says that “There is something intrinsically positive about that level of intimacy between parents or carers and young children which helps foster emotional security and develop verbal skill.”

No-one could argue with this. What’s often overlooked, too, are the enormous benefits of continuing to read bedtime stories (and not only stories) to older children, including those who are accomplished readers, for just as long as they want you to continue. All children love this special one-to-one time. For a child of any age, being read to, especially at bedtime, presents the perfect opportunity for a cosy chat, perhaps about a character in a story – ‘Do you think he should’ve done that?’ A story can be way for a child to start talking about something troubling them, as well as a peaceful moment to leave behind the preoccupations of a daily life that is becoming increasingly busy for both children and adults alike, and step into the world of the imagination – a treat for the grown -up, too, after the daily grind! Parents can be forgiven, in today’s hectic world, for feeling too tired or busy for reading to children at bedtime, but if they can do this, the spin-offs are enormous.

Please see also my blogs about bedtime stories, What’s the story, Evening Glory?; In your night time garden and Encouraging parents to read bedtime stories. This last blog mentioned the recent TalkTalk Tales competition to find the country’s best bedtme storyteller. The competition was judged by Bernard Cribbens, and you can hear some of the entrants at http://www.talktalktales.co.uk/ .  You don’t have to be a Bernard Cribbens – your child will love your reading!

Posted in Literacy, Teaching children to read, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Create a Thinking House and Bodhi Tree for Wesak

Celebrate the Birthday of the  Buddha at Wesak time by encouraging children to create their own Thinking House , like the children  in the  film ‘Sian’s Wesak Day’ on the award-winning   ‘A Child’s Eye View of Festivals 2’  DVD Plus.


 On Wesak  Day, Theravada  Buddhists celebrate the birth, Enlightenment and the death of the Buddha. Mahayana Buddhists celebrate only his birth on this day. They celebrate his Enlightenment and commemorate his death on two further, separate occasions.  Before his Enlightenment, the Buddha was called Prince Siddhartha. He was born 2,500 years ago at Lumbini Gardens, Northern India (now Nepal). The festival story tells of the Prince’s kindness to an injured swan. In the film ‘Sian’s Wesak Day’, Sian and her friends find out about the Buddhists’ respect for all living things and the natural world.

 Create a Thinking House

 Encourage children to create and decorate a quiet nurture area where one child at a time can go and sit and ‘think about being happy’. Children can use, for   example, blocks, crates on their side threaded with leaves, cardboard cartons, rugs and cushions. Alternatively, use a ready-made willow shelter, tent, or gazebo. Decorate with streamers, leaves, real or artificial flowers, tissue paper flower garlands and wind chimes. Let children decorate old CDs using collage materials and glue, then hang the discs up inside and outside the House. Children  can make  miniature ‘water gardens’ by   putting a little water in disposable clear plastic bowls, and adding pebbles,  petals, blossom, dandelions and leaves. Arrange the bowls on a builders’ tray in a space of its own to avoid knocks.

 Talk together about how the children feel in the ‘Thinking House’, for example, calm, quiet, peaceful, still, cool,  tranquil, serene. Encourage them to think of their own name for this special place, and to make a sign, for example, ‘Our Peaceful Place’, ‘Our Calm Corner’ or ‘The Quiet Space’.

 Our Bodhi Tree

 The tree under which Prince Siddhartha meditated until he reached the state of Enlightenment is known as the Bodhi tree, or Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of the Awakening. The Bodhi tree is sacred to Buddhists.  Bodhi trees (pipal or peepul trees) grow widely inIndia, and the tradition of writing or painting on Bodhi leaves is an ancient art form.

Have a supply of green paper ‘Bodhi leaves’ (roughly heart-shaped), inside the House. Beforehand, punch a hole through each ‘leaf’, towards one end. Put a clipboard with pencil attached on a string, next to the ‘leaves’. Say that children may, if they  wish, write down their ‘happy feeling’ on a leaf, then tie it  , with colored parcel ribbon, on your ‘Bodhi tree’  – small branches stuck in a large plastic pot of soil, outside the ‘House’. Ask children to tie their leaves on the ‘tree’ loosely so that they flutter in the breeze.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Encouraging parents to read bedtime stories

Research by  Tiscali’s current Talk Talk Campaign has revealed that half of  children nowadays do not have a bedtime story. See my blogs  –  What’s the story and In your night time garden .

Tactful and imaginative strategies , not just  by nursery and Reception teachers, can go a long way to  get across the vital message to parents about the enormous value of the bedtime story.  For example, you can make a huge wall list in your entrance hall of the favourite bedtime  stories of your setting’s/ school’s travelling  mascot.

Also, before March 13th, visit  http://www.talktalktales.co.uk/ to find out about how children, teachers and parents can enter a competition, judged by Bernard Cribbens, to find the country’s  best amateur storyteller.  The competition is simple to enter and there are valuable prizes, including book tokens .

Posted in Teaching children to read | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Recipe for Chinese New Year

Recipe for Jiaozi – dumplings – for Chinese New Year
(February 3rd) 
 Ian makes dumplings with his mumSee Ian help make some special Chinese New Year dumplings in ‘Ian’s Chinese New Year’ (on the multi award-winning DVD Plus, A  Child’s Eye View of Festivals )  and watch his excitement as he finds  the lucky money hidden inside! Then make your own delicious  dumplings with your class, using this vegetarian recipe provided by Ian’s Mum (and tried and tested with a class of young children by Child’s Eye Media). The activity is quite straightforward and well worth doing as a really special treat for your Yuan Tan celebrations.  


Let’s make dumplings! (30 dumplings)

NB. Check for allergies and dietary requirements

Dough: 200gr. Plain flour; up to 150ml. cold water
Filling: 5 Chinese leaves; 2 eggs; half a spring onion; 2 slices (each 4 cm long) of fresh root ginger; one teaspoon light soy sauce; one teaspoon sesame oil.
What to do
Ensure everyone washes their hands thoroughly and wears an apron.
Involve the children in weighing and pouring the flour into a large bowl. Add the water, a tablespoon at a time, letting everyone take turns to mix, until a smooth dough is formed. Make into a ball, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Let everyone take turns to use a salad spinner to wash the leaves.
Give everyone a leaf and ask them to tear it in small pieces.
Collect the pieces together and use a ‘rocking’ chopper yourself, to chop them finely. Wash and chop the spring onion. Peel the ginger root and let everyone smell it before you slice and chop two pieces. Mix the lettuce, onion and ginger together.
Let everyone help beat the eggs. Lightly scramble the egg in the sesame oil. Add the mixture and the soy sauce, stirring in one direction. Remove from heat. Divide the dough into three sections. Shape each section into a cylinder, approx. 2.5 cm. wide. Slice each cylinder into ten equal pieces, scoring the dough if necessary. Give each child a piece to roll out into a circle approx. 7 cm. wide. At this point an adult or groups of other children may roll out the remaining dough into 25 circles.
Let everyone put a teaspoonful of mixture in the middle of the dough and fold up the dough into a half-moon shape, pinching to seal. Put the dumplings into a large pan of boiling water, giving a gentle stir. Cover and bring to the boil. Add half a cup of boiling water and repeat. When the dumplings come to the boil for a third time, they are ready.
Make a dipping sauce by mixing equal parts of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Dip and enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Writing’s not just for the writing area

A bright, inviting and well resourced writing area is, of course, essential; however, it is just as important to encourage children to write in any provision area.  Here are a few ideas, some general, and some specific to an area, to help children to readily think of ‘jotting things down’ as a way of sharing their world with others.

In general, shoe boxes containing clipboards and paper, with pencils on a string, are great to have anywhere and everywhere alongside any kind of learning experience, inside or outside. Slip some sheets inside plastic wallets as children do enjoy the smooth sensation of writing or drawing on the plastic, with washable felt-tipped pens, and the ‘wipeability’.  Instead of shoeboxes, you can use plastic twin–compartment tool trays with a handle.

Small world area

Provide open-ended ‘themed’ plain A4 sheets on clipboards alongside small world play.  Add a very simple picture or design to a corner or along an edge of the paper, ‘matched’ to a current small world theme e.g. pirates, airport, firefighters, animals etc, for maps, signs, ‘notices’ and ‘reports’ etc.

Malleable area

Perhaps Wallace has decided to make Gromit a birthday party!  Children could make playdough/clay ‘bones’ and ‘dog biscuits’, then write out invitations to Gromit’s ‘doggy friends’, and draw plans for ‘party fun activities’ for dogs, then make them from junk materials and construction sets e.g. an ‘obstacle course’ etc.

Book area

Have a stock of blank, simply bordered (e.g. with book characters) ‘I love this book!’ sheets, and a place where children can display their sheets for other children to read.

Have stationery available, too, for children who may want to write to a book character.  Make sure of course, that a reply always arrives!  Sometimes have a letter to a child  from a character already written, ‘during the night’!.

Creative workshop

Provide simply decorated sheets for children to draw what they have made, and perhaps write about how they did it, and attach to a display board.  Some could be headed ‘How to…’

Role play area

Have a wipeable marker board on the wall.  If the area is a ‘home’, children can jot down shopping and ‘to do’ lists, phone numbers of ‘repair people’, names of the bears and dolls and what to buy them for Christmas etc.  If a ‘hospital’ or a ‘vets surgery’, children could write the names of patients and their illnesses and treatments.  If the area is a ‘car workshop’, they could write the makes of cars and their repairs.

Floor construction area

Have plain sheets on clipboards available in boxes on the floor, for children to draw ‘plans’ of the buildings etc, and notices , street signs etc.

Keep a box of plain paper on clipboards alongside traffic road mat play, too.  One child, in uniform as a ‘police office’ or ‘traffic warden’ could ‘jot down’ the ‘registration numbers’ ( small white stickers on vehicles) of vehicles that are ‘speeding’, or ‘jumping lights’, or ‘park illegally’.

Maths area

Have sheets with a simple decorative border on a number theme, for children to write their names and their friends’ names and their ‘scores’ in child-devised and manufactured games.

Investigation area

Make available a supply of ‘Look what I found out!’ sheets, with a simple motif.


Have boxes and containers of clipboard sheets, and pencils on strings, in strategic positions outside for role play ‘messages’, and ‘important notes’, and outdoor ‘discoveries’ etc.

Providing plentiful ‘jotting stations’ in all provision areas will help children turn easily to ‘jotting things down’, and becoming ‘ready writers’!

Posted in Creative learning, Letter formation, Literacy, mark making and emergent writing, Outdoor play, Writing through role-play | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Open a sports injuries clinic and get boys writing

A ‘sports injuries clinic’ offers lots of opportunities to get young children, especially boys, writing, for example, as they ‘jot down’ details about how the injury happened, during which ‘match’ or ‘Olympic training event’, and, of course, notes about the treatment, together with the name of the ‘patient’ – perhaps a famous sportsperson!

An ‘X-ray plate’, showing a ‘broken bone’ injury is an inspiring prop!  This is included, along with simple instructions about how children can make an ‘X-ray light box’, in the award-winning ‘Young Writers’ Role Play Pack’.  Video interviews with teachers using the Pack talking about its impact on children’s language development, role play and willingness to write is at www.childseyemedia.com . The Pack has DVD films of adults (including doctors) writing as part of their work, and children emulating them in role play (see the photo above of six year old Maeve, as ‘orthopaedic surgeon’), writing frames, innovative ideas, and distinctive outfits (including unique ‘write-on-the-pocket’ ‘helicopter police’ trousers). (All items available separately).

Posted in Role play for children, Writing through role-play | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment