Tuesday, 26 September 2017
‘Authors Share One Thing No-One Tells You About Writing A Book’
Thursday, 14 September 2017
Nearly every day, I see an article online about what's wrong with our kids, from teenage boys to toddlers. Speaking from the view point of a mother who has both at the same time, I am so disappointed that this is the only way they seem to be perceived: as a problem that needs to be fixed.
My grandmother passed away recently. She was a woman who faced many challenges in her life and didn't always make the right decisions when it came to the best interests of her children, but she was passionate about always loving them for who they are. I learnt so much about the challenges of parenting from her and I will be forever grateful.
Our children are doing amazing. They are growing up in a world that is moving faster than any other time in history. No previous generation has had to adapt to the amount of technological, economical and climate change that they will have to do in their lifetime. As far as I am concerned, they are adapting incredibly well and in most cases, no thanks to us.
If I had a choice between reading a book or playing a game on my iPad when I was their age, I would have chosen iPad, and I love books. The lure of modern technology comes from smart marketing, inadequate arts funding for interactive creative projects and a bunch of dinosaurs who are still trying to compete with immediate, individualised, integrated programming and display an appalling lack of the imagination and foresight required to embrace what could be an amazing partnership between the new and the old. When parents are so distracted themselves, not only by having to be a two income family just to make ends meet, and then catching up with the younger generation by trying to understand the technology and social media they use with such ingenious prowess, that any time left should be to focus on the children. This is where we as parents fail them, by scheduling in after school and weekend activities from sporting, music and extra academic lessons to fill the white noise that deafens you as a parent of a child that you can't connect with. Connection with our kids is what's missing, and that's where we are failing them and not the other way around.
If we could just spend more time teaching our kids about critical and creative thinking, using the technology they are comfortable with, then they can hold the key to their own salvation. The insatiable need we have to give our kids labels is making them think that if they don't have one, there must be something wrong with them. It's not normal to be normal anymore. We've taken everything that was done with the best of intentions and twisted it with political purpose or economic gain. Even play based learning, extra help in the classroom and children's mental health issues have been skewed so far from the essence of their original purpose that they end up in most cases doing our kids more harm than good. Our education system, child protection agency and health care system are broken and the good people within these organisations that are trying to do the best for our kids are fighting a losing battle. All of these things are our of our kids control and another example of how they are constantly reacting to the world around them in order to survive. There is no time to think.
I understand that our kids aren't perfect, but what more can you expect from an imperfect world? As a parent, I'm not going to beat myself up about that, mainly because I don't have the time or energy to dedicate to what society thinks of me or my children, but mostly because the time I do have is better spent letting my kids know how proud I am of everything they are achieving and how much I'm looking forward to seeing the men they will become. I also let them know how sorry I am that the world they have to grow up in, the world that my generation was meant to fix, is a world full of 'ifs' and 'buts', without a clear answer of why things are the way they are or a united, safe and secure direction for the future. I believe with all my heart that the next generation, when we give them the support they need, not the criticism they definitely don't deserve, then and only then will they be the ones who really can make the world a better place.
Wednesday, 6 September 2017
The Importance of Group Story Time
It is a growing problem but a common fact that children are less interested in reading books as a single passive experience. If this is their sole experience of story time, we are in danger of them becoming disinterested in reading at all. The importance of regular storytelling in a group format has never been so important.
Children become engaged during story time because they construct mental images of the text events while it is being read aloud. When you provide them with a story that is vividly written, they become engaged with the text and actively respond to it. The use of picture books as stimulating text, not only for pre school aged children but for those in primary levels of education, provides a starting point in terms of creating a home or school culture that fosters engaged reading and aesthetic response. The interpretive tools that children use as they attempt to craft meaningful interpretations play a significant role in cognitive engagement and creative thinking.
One interpretative tool that has displayed for me the most cognitive engagement is when children relate the content of the text to their own personal experiences. When children are able to think about the text and make connections between the new information presented in the story and their store of background experiences, this allows them to be active and thoughtful about their interpretations.
Children often use this ability to make connections between familiar knowledge and incoming information in order to make predictions and inferences about characters, their motives and actions, as well as story events. If they can enter into shared reading knowing that their own unique set of interpretive tools has value, they find it easier to construct a meaningful connection and learn to work well in a collaborative environment.
We need to encourage children more often to open their tool boxes and apply those tools in ways that build team work and critical thinking. The collaborative effort of group story time means children, along with the story teller, can add pieces of information recalled from the text, earlier predictions or background knowledge to support and elaborate ideas which is a natural and organic encouragement of further reading. Each new piece of information added to the discussion becomes a new tool that can be used to see how they all fit together as a whole, allowing them to raise their own questions and topics for discussion and learn the intrinsic value of linking the process of reading to finding answers to their own concerns.
If you have had a similar experience with group story telling, I would love to hear from you in the comments.
Tuesday, 29 August 2017
Thanks so much for including my blog post about Work Life Balance with these amazing tips from entrepreneurs about achieving balance.
Monday, 21 August 2017
Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Last week, I was speaking with some author friends and we all agreed that in our recent author visit experience, children were struggling with the concept and practical application of imaginative play. And we asked ourselves the question, "Is imagination in danger of becoming extinct?"
Modern children are very good at mimicry and mirroring instruction. The excel at engaging in guided learning but with the current curriculum and focus on learning outcomes, more so than learning pathways, are they loosing the ability to think creatively, independently and inventively?
The important role that imagination plays in creating engagement in more than just rope-learning and forced literacy reflects the essence of the need for questioning, exploration and extended discussion around issued that are important to children as individuals. Here are my top three reasons why we need to save Imagination from dying out all together.
1. Imagination is learned.
Children are not born with imagination. Imagination is a learned strategy that is modelled and used by a caregiver or peer in an attempt to construct meaningful interpretations of the seen and unseen world in which we live. The importance of creating an environment in which children learn to and feel free to use their imagination can be undervalued in a technologically advanced culture that lends itself to children becoming passive, unresponsive and unable to engage with any medium that required individual interpretation, namely, books. We need to teach the next generation to use their imagination if we hope to have the inventors, the dreamers and the big idea makers that will take them into the next century and beyond.
2. Imagination is a tool.
The context and culture of imagination influences engagement in many areas of children's lives and is a tool for experimentation and learning. Children use their imagination as a tool in their interactions with the world around them as they attempt to make sense of it or craft their own interpretations. The act of imaginative play itself becomes the environment from which information is gathered which is evidenced by their non-verbal cues as well as their overt responses. They also become more motivated to participate in learning as a result of the engaging properties of the use of imagination as a teaching tool.
3. Imagination is contagious.
The reflexivity inherent in the use of imagination is that when the culture of the learning environment permits children to question, explore and invent, not only are individuals cognitively engaged, but their use of imagination elicits engagement in their peers as well. Children can also use imaginative play as a way of safe space sharing of thoughts, feelings and ideas, modelling the behaviour for their peers and allowing age appropriate conversations of important topics that are relevant to their life and learning. More than any of that...it is so much fun.
If you have any other reasons why we need to save Imagination, especially in schools, please let me know in the comments.
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
Reading is not just vegetables, it's also dessert
Waging a war to get your child to read can never be won; the only true victory happens when you lay down your arms and befriend the fact that for some children, reading is like having to eat their vegetables...they only do it because a parent said it was good for them or a teacher makes them do it before they can move on to something 'fun'.
The more we treat reading like a chore or homework, the more children are going to become disengaged from the true purpose of books; to give the gift of another world, a new friend or a mirror to celebrate what makes us all truly unique.
Here are my top 3 ways that you can make reading less like vegetables, and more like dessert.
Reading is independent
Even though an emerging reader will need help in the beginning, the goal of teaching a child to read is so they can become independent and do it on their own. Have books available for your child at their current reading level, not the reading level they are 'meant' to be. This may mean starting with picture books and building on literacy and language from their, but in their own pace. They should always be able to read the text comfortably and it doesn't always have to be out loud. Don't interrupt or correct unless they look for help. Asking questions after each book is a great way to promote reading comprehension and determining whether to increase the complexity of the stories. The more you encourage your children to take their own initiative the more confidence they will build. They won’t be afraid to give books a go and you will find they will naturally choose reading over other alternatives.
Reading is about choice
School children are seldom given the choice for what, when and where to read. By giving your child a choice outside of school, it will allow them to understand that there is a time and place for texts that serve a purpose in an educational setting, as well as books that are read purely for enjoyment. Take them to your local library and let them choose books that interest them. Don't judge or deny because you think it is above or below their capacity; you would be surprised how much value can be obtained from the most obscure book, all because it engaged a child in some way.
Reading is fun
Going back to the purpose of books, reading is meant to be a way of connecting, not only to the world around us, but to world's that only exist in our imagination. If you child prefers to read graphic novels, comic books or on a tablet, that has to be totally ok. For all its intrinsic educational value, reading is entertainment. Fun online reading games, reading apps and read along YouTube videos all have their place in modern literacy. How can we expect children to grow up to be life long readers if we place restrictions on the mode that engages them the most, whether it be paper or screen? There is room for both. Books have always come in all shapes and sizes, so reading is reading, no matter the medium. Focus on your child developing a passion for reading and everything else is just icing on the cake.
Do you have any other suggestions for why you agree that books are definitely dessert? I would love to hear from you.
Tuesday, 18 July 2017
Picture Books depart magic and wisdom to children all over the world every day, but they are so much more than a literacy tool. They are a gift to all of us; those who read them as well as those who write them.
1. When you read a picture book, you are seen.
Reading a book is sharing a story with a stranger. You might be in the arms of someone you love, but from another town or even another country, a storyteller is opening up your eyes and in turn, looking to you for your response. It happens without fanfare. It sees past the face you put on over your real one. There might me hints at secrets that you hide but understand. There might be a look in the characters eyes that mirrors your own. It could be something as simple as a truth you had always considered but never been brave enough to say out loud.
This storyteller sees you. There is somebody out there who gets it—it being you.
2. When you read a picture book, you learn.
The degree to which readers feel comfortable expressing their views is never more evident than when reading a picture book. Children are able not only to put their ideas out for public inspection on the cognitive worktable, but they also respond to and challenge their peers ideas. These interactions with one another suggest a high level of cognitive engagement in that children are listening to and responding to not only the story, but to another and making thoughtful contributions. Additionally, the evidence suggests that the comprehension process stimulated by predicting, relating and questioning that occurs provides guidelines about how to talk about issues children feel strongly about and what to say in order to participate and share their own views.
3.When you read a picture book, you are loved.
If you would like to share what gift picture books have given you and your family, please feel free to comment or contact me, I would love to hear your stories.
Wednesday, 12 July 2017
We have all heard the age old mantra that children should be read to from birth and this is true, in an ideal world. There is such a thing as a child who simply doesn't want to be read to, who can't sit still long enough or has trouble processing words and pictures at the same time. These children need to be introduced differently to the world of books and progressively to reading, in their own time and on their own terms. Just because they don't have a natural affinity with books, doesn't mean they should miss out on the benefits of Sensory Storytelling.
My youngest son, Tom, was born at 28 weeks. He has recently been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. He doesn't play with other children, he doesn't watch TV and most of all, he doesn't read books. As a picture book author, not being able to share books with him just about breaks my heart. So, I have been working with him to find some age appropriate, sensory friendly ways to help him discover and embrace the magic of books.
Children who are not interested in books can be put off by many things, some seemingly more significant than others but all of them need to be acknowledged and addressed. Every child is different, but let’s take Tom for example. Firstly, the size of the book bothers him. Bigger is not always better. He will open the book to a page but won't allow or initiate page turning. Even at 18 months old, everything still goes in the mouth. He doesn't like being read to with the book in front of him, but will listen if I am behind and eventually come to me when he is ready. We have never had a successful bedtime storytelling session whereas with my older two boys, we read a book or ten together every night.
My best tip would be don’t attempt to try and read books to a disinterested child at bedtime. They are tired and cranky, and you might be too. Find a bedtime routine that works for them and run with it. Don’t feel guilty if you are not reading to them at night. The second tip is to keep it simple. Choose three books about subjects your child is familiar with and let them choose which one they would like you to read them.
• Let them touch the book before you start reading.
• Establish a comfortable personal space
• Be slow and deliberate in your movements, especially when turning the page and pointing to words
• Keep your voice low and calm, limiting expression to what is needed for understanding to begin with and then adding facial expressions and repetitive head movements.
• Look at the pictures in the book first before going back and reading the words if they are still interested. The pictures themselves will foster discussion and interaction.
• Allow fidgety behaviour and if the child is unable to sit still, stand up and walk around while reading.
This is a process and may have to be repeated many times before they become responsive to what you are trying to achieve. Don’t give up. The reward of parent-child bonding over a picture book story is more than worth the effort.
What ways do you have of engaging reluctant readers? I'd love to hear your tips.
Wednesday, 5 July 2017
A parent recently told me that her kids would never be interested in reading the books she read as a child because they were too old fashioned. It struck me that in my experience, this was definitely not the case.
I read the books I treasured as a little girl to my boys and not withstanding the gender difference, they loved them. Some were considered classics, but most just held beautiful childhood memories for me. The reason I read them to my children is because I believed in the deep resonance they had with me that must have stuck with me for some reason. They held a truth that my heart recognised and I wanted to share with and teach that truth to my family. If history has taught us anything, it is that stories always endure.
Here are my top 5 reasons to read your favourite books to your kids.
1. It connects you.
1. It connects you.
One of the most beautiful things in life is sharing books you read as a child. I loved the old books my mother and grandmother had from their childhood and read to me. They connected me to their lives and history.2. Today’s kids will still understand.
If it is a good story, children with enjoy it, no matter if the writing style is not what they are used to. In fact, it is an excellent vocabulary building tool and reading extension for creative thinking to expose them to different sentence structure. Children’s books celebrate universal themes that are timeless.
3. You have fun reading them out loud.
Share your excitement and enjoyment by reading the books aloud. The children will respond to your joy and it is a great way to initiate open conversation about why you loved the book and what about it has stayed with you over the years.
4. Explore other perspectives
Kids can understand whose point of view a story is coming from if you take the time to explain the social context it was written in. Balance it out, talk about it. Being able to see things from a variety of perspectives is a big step in tolerance and moral development. It can also give kids a historical context…depending on how old they think you are.
5. Extend the learning
Use the reading as a starting point to fire you children’s imagination and extend their learning to a trip to the museum or another place of interest that can expand on the concepts and historical context discussed in the story. Seeing how far we have come has its place. Books can be portals through time and space and the more children are exposed to the organic value of reading and the meaning it has for them in their day to day lives.
My favourite childhood books are too many to list here, but I will give you my top 5 series and authors.
Anne of Green Gables series
Little House on the Prairie series
Enid Blyton Books
Beatrix Potter Books
Mem Fox Books
I would love to know what books framed your childhood. Please let me know in the comments.
Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Storytelling As A Form Of Expression For Children With Special Needs
By Monisha Iswaran
Putting the effort into teaching your child with special needs how to engage with activities such as storytelling will benefit them considerably in the long run. It is one medium through which they can find an outlet for some much needed self expression. Understanding stories and learning how to retell them to an audience (even if that audience is only mum and dad sometimes), can help with reading, writing, self-confidence and numerous other skills that are essential as your little ones grow up.
The great thing about storytelling is that you are able to match the level of difficulty to your child’s ability. There are a wide number of children’s books available, which suit kids of different reading capabilities. You want to make sure you increase the difficulty of the books your little one reads by small increments - enough so that they are continually challenged and learning, but not so much that they feel discouraged and begin to resent reading as an activity. Once they have become familiar with the simple storyline, get them to retell the gist of it back to you. Similarly, you’ll want to increase the level of detail you expect from them bit by bit. When they first begin this activity, is likely they will only recap the story in a basic one line summary, or perhaps tell you a little about the main characters. That is totally fine! Although you may have to start out by asking them lots of prompting questions, the need to do so will slowly dissipate as they gain confidence, and hopefully begin to recall more from what they have read.
Another wonderful aspect of storytelling is that it is an activity you can engage in literally anytime, and anywhere. You don’t even really need a book present - you could have your little one practice by telling you a story about something that happened in school that day. If they are confident with the activity, they can even make something up and develop their imagination at the same time.
If it’s hard to convince your little ones to get excited about storytelling, combine it with an activity they already find fun! Swings are a great investment, as your kids will no doubt enjoy playing on them, but they are able to multitask while swinging back and forth. You could even make a game out of it, by saying “for each line of the story you tell me, I’ll give you one big push”, as they rock back and forth! Cots are extremely useful, as once you put your little one down for a nap or at their bedtime each night, you can recap the day’s happenings in storytelling form. If they are about to drift off to sleep, you can take a turn at reading to them or telling a story. That way they hear your version as an example, and we all know that’s how kids learn best.
The best thing about storytelling is that you can truly use it as a confidence-booster for kids. Particularly in the case of children with special needs or those with learning disabilities, issues such as self esteem and believing in their own capabilities are extremely important for their development. Activities that involve public speaking, language and can be adjusted to their current level of learning are perfect for doing so. Not to mention, getting lost in a love of reading and storytelling can be a fantastic form of self-expression and the perfect escape from the struggles of everyday life.
As a parent, encouraging your child to participate in such activities, especially in your household, outside of just school is particularly important such that your little ones start to identify storytelling as more than just something they have to do, but rather a hobby they can turn to when they feel down, or just need an emotional release. The benefits are numerous, it’s easy to implement and there aren’t any downsides - so what are you waiting for?
Wednesday, 21 June 2017
Engagement through reading occurs when caregivers can help children by using interpretive tools to select, connect and organise information int he text to construct real meaningful interpretations of their own lives. The context of reading and the culture of literacy on a family and social level can also influence engagement. Reading with your child, not to your child, is important on a cognitive, metacognitive and motivational level. Children who have been engaged in reading from a young age do better academically and are more attentive students. During organic engagement, attention and mental processes are focused on the book and the learner is completely absorbed in the task of reading and in a state of flow. Although a child may be looking directly at the pages in a book and may appear to be engaged, they may only be going through the motions. Engaging your child during reading means sustained and personal commitment to create understanding.
Children are more likely to be engaged in reading when they believe they are capable of understanding, when it is interesting and when they feel it is important to them. This is why, as I have mentioned before in my previous blogs, that engaging children with reading books must come after they have a firm grasp of the relevance of words and communication in their day to day lives. This will help them to self regulate their attention and effort, relate new information to existing knowledge and monitor their own comprehension, making them more likely to have the physical and mental ability to hold their attention long enough to be successful readers. It also makes it easier for them to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, link familiar knowledge to incoming information and organise sequences from the story, making them critical and creative thinkers.
In order for engagement in reading to occur, caregivers must provide instructional conditions that support it. A family culture that provides for child interaction and caregiver modelling of cognitive processes promotes the notion of reading as a transactional process where meaning occurs as the child’s expectations and experiences are in transaction and content of the text. Reading should be viewed as an interpretive process rather than as an exercise in listening and sitting still. Children should be encouraged to use strategic comprehension processes such as predicting, relating to prior knowledge and asking questions about the text in a reader-response collaborative discussion.
Too often, children’s experience of human interaction emerges as an unpredictable negotiation between being an individual and being asked to fit in with the expectations of others. They are asked to be passive participants in their learning. To engage children in reading, a more active stance is required. Children should be encouraged to use their own individual interactions with the text as they attempt to make sense of it so they can craft their own interpretations. As caregivers model interpretive tools, children become accustomed to seeing them used to derive a meaning from the text and develops an inherent reflexivity in its use as a tool to nurture engagement.
If you have any other ideas on why you agree that reading is an integral part of developing critical and creative thinkers, I would love you to contact me or comment below.
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
Here are my top ten tips for Connecting with Your Little Ones.
• Build a foundation of communication and word structure for your child by helping them to become familiar with common sounds, words and language that you use throughout the day.
• Introduce them to the value of books by incorporating them into playtime as well as a bedtime routine.
• Talk about what you have read. Help your children understand that ideas need to be discussed and thought about critically and creatively. This will help show them that words can be communicated to other people in different ways to pass on the message. If you have read something you don’t agree with, discuss that as well. Children need to learn that everything this is written is not necessarily the truth.
• Find ways in everyday activities to spark your child’s imagination. Stimulate curiosity and help his brain development by using words creatively. Don’t be scared about using ‘big words’. Vocabulary is key to improving communication in young children.
• Use sounds in fun ways. Make silly made up sounds and vary your pitch and tone when talking, reading and singing songs together.
• Help your child learn the difference between ‘real’ and ‘make-believe’. Imaginative play with toys and books is a great way to switch from real life scenarios to make believe world building. Encourage made up stories but be clear about when the time is needed for truth.
• Picture books can be great tools for you to use to help your child understand change and new or frightening events, and also the strong emotions that can go along with them. The library is an amazing resource for finding diverse books.
• Stop and listen when your child is trying to tell you something. Maintain eye contact. Try to stay as still as you can. Your child will develop early literacy skills like the ability to listen to and understand words faster if they feel they themselves are being listened to and understood.
• Teach your child the importance of following simple instructions by writing shopping lists together and getting them involved with easy cooking recipes or reading aloud to them as you are cooking so they can see the importance of written words.
• Foster a sense of humour by sharing laughter every day. Laugh out loud at silly jokes, something accidental or unusual that happened or silly sounds. Learning to laugh is important for a child’s communication, literacy and emotional development. Best of all, the sound of your laughter will make them the happiest of all.
If you have some great top tips, I would love you to contact me.
Wednesday, 31 May 2017
Here are my top 5 tips to encourage young ASD children to fall in love with reading.
1.Let them pick what to read. Our local libraries love us. We almost always leave with 10 children's books. It works for us because it allows Tom to have a choice of what he wants to read based on whatever new obsession he has t hat week. I love the idea of teaching children to choose books on their own, regardless of their reading level. I love anything that encourages independence and I work with whatever motivated Tom to pick up that book, even if it is way above his comprehension level. Books are about so much more than words and pictures. They are about forming connections
2. Focus on sight words. Do everything you can to make them fun and playful but don't worry too much if they aren't picking it up straight away. This is a long term strategy for reading that needs to start early, way before they walk into a classroom. The more letters and words they recognise, the easier reading will be. It's not rocket science, it's repetition.
3. Make books available at play time, not just bedtime. We have books everywhere at our place. We keep them in in the playroom, in the kids’ bedroom and in the car. Bedtime is a lovely time to share stories but it is more about the senso ry stimulation they receive from being close to you than a learning experience. ASD kids respond well to using books as part of extending their play time by integrating literacy into their daily routine.
4. Read aloud. Even if it seems like they aren't listening, part of their brain is responding to the sounds of your voice. Varied tone, intonation and volume are important. Most importantly of all, it doesn’t have to be from a book. Read the paper, read the cereal packet, read the instructions on the packet meal for dinner. Get older siblings, grandparents or anyone who is willing to read aloud and then initiate a conversation with them about what they are reading. This encourages critical and creative thinking and associates books as a valued resource to facilitate easy conversation and connection with others.
5. Let them see you reading. ASD kids can be visual creatures who love to mimic others. If they see you reading, they a re more likely to do the same. Talk to them about what you are reading. Find a word they might recognise. Read varied books, magazines and online articles so they can see you use reading and books in your everyday life as an adult and they will grow to understand that even though reading might be difficult now, it will be a skill they will need when they get older so they will be more encouraged to stick with it.
If you would like to contact me, I would love to hear your top tips.
Tuesday, 30 May 2017
Thank so much to MyDeal.com.au for interviewing me on my best tips to connect with your children through reading together. You can find the full article here.
Thank you so much to MyDeal.com.au for sharing my tips on the importance of reading to kids. Check out their blog for more great reasons on why Art is Great for Kids.
Friday, 5 May 2017
Thursday, 4 May 2017
If you would like to have your children's picture book reviewed by Fairy Belle,
contact her at www.michelleworthington.com for more details