Category Archives: Education

More Ancient Egypt

Mighty Girl (7) is definitely taken with her Ancient Egypt topic at school. She asked to use the laptop at 7am this morning, and this is what I found in a Word document after she went to school:

AEintro

 

AEchap1

(It’s unfinished because she had to go to school!)

She also drew this picture of the jackal-headed god Anubis at school.

anubis

I thought it was traced at first. I know I’m biased, but I am in awe of what she gets up to on her own initiative. Perhaps home ed at secondary level will suit her best after all…

Also I am a very naughty mummy!

naughtymummy

 

Note: all the colours, fonts, sizing, underlining etc in Word are all Mighty Girl’s own work. The blurring is mine, to hide personal details.

Back to School: Labelling School Clothes

Back to School

In the UK, we’re coming up to half way through the holidays, so in a little over three weeks it’s back to school again. Some people may have already bought and labelled the school uniform, but if you haven’t, now is a good time to think about getting it all sorted.

We’re about to enter our fourth year of full-time schooling, and second year with two children, so it’s all fairly routine here now. But three years ago, faced with a variety of labelling options that didn’t really suit, I was faced with a dilemma:

How to Label the School Uniform?

Labelling clothes is essential when many children are dressed identically. Jumpers and cardigans will get strewn randomly in classrooms whenever it’s vaguely warm, and entire uniforms will get put in the wrong gym bag on regular occasions. Labelling is a must, but what do you use?

1. Sew-in labels: The traditional option. Pros: Woven labels are long-lasting and don’t come out in the wash. Cons: Time consuming to sew on dozens of labels, and to unpick them to transfer. Also may fray so can’t be reused.

2. Iron-on labels. Pros: Quick to iron in. Cons: Involves ironing (I never iron!) Labels can wash out after even one wash, labels can only be used once.

3. Fabric stickers. Pros: Quick. Cons: Not reusable, will probably wash out at some point, may be difficult to remove when you want to pass uniform on.

4. Pen: The cheap option. Pros: Quick and very cheap. Cons: Looks horrible, pen may bleed, might wash out or is impossible to remove other than scribbling over.

5. Easy Tags. Pros: Quick, reusable, last for years, don’t come out in the wash, attach to clothes, bags, towels, labels, even canvas shoes. Cons: Initial cost higher than other options.

Easy Tags from Easy 2 Name

We’ve been using Easy Tags for three years now. A year ago I saw that there was a new applicator available so got that to review and recorded our first vlog, which I didn’t actually publish at the time oops. It’s full of ‘um’s, ‘you know’s and ‘sort of’s and is utterly embarrassing (to me!)

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-DzHu2gCGk”]

With another year’s experience, I still love them, and here are some highlights:

I LOVE the crocodile system. The bulkier looking tag that I was initially concerned about has been no trouble at all. It’s possible to get the tags behind woven neck labels so the tags don’t touch skin, and my daughters have never noticed the tags were there. It’s so quick and easy.

The names are still clear on all the tags, even the ones that have been in constant use and washed at least weekly for the last three years.

In three years, we’ve lost ONE tag in the washing machine. And by ‘lost’, I mean, ‘pulled out of label’ as it was in the machine and we used it again without any problem. The only reason it came out is because I attached it too near the edge of the label so it tore – but not until several months of use and washes.

The used tags still look like new.

25 tags is enough for a year’s worth of uniform, e.g.:
5 polo shirts
5 winter dresses or trousers
5 summer dresses or shorts
3 sweaters / jumpers / cardigans
1 jogging trousers for PE
1 shorts for PE
1 polo top for PE
1 PE sweatshirt
1 coat
1 pair waterproof trousers
1 other item (or 6 other items as you don’t need winter and summer dresses/trousers at the same time, but you’ll need extra backs for this)

A starter kit with 25 tags, 25 backs, and a crocodile applicator costs £25.95, with replacement backs costing £4.95 for 25.

Disclosure: One crocodile applicator, 25 labels and backs received for review. We purchased our own dolphin applicator, dolphin tags and backs, plus additional crocodile tags and backs.

Snail Land

Mighty Girl (7.2) has been creating her own worlds recently. I think it was inspired by the maps at the start of books, but she gets inspiration from all sorts of places.

She has been creating small creatures out of blu-tac – this isn’t the best modelling material as it’s a bit too east to squish out of shape, but she’s made a series of teeny tiny snails, named them and then created Snail Land.

Snail Land by Mighty Girl (7)

The houses are all named with who lives there. Fast’s house has a medal in the window. There’s also Slow, Tiny, and Big. I wonder who Mrs Careful is, and what happens in Snail Hall?

I’m really curious to see where she takes her latest creation. She’s planning to write some stories based on the characters and world she’s been creating.

I remember creating characters and worlds when I was about twelve or so, inspired by The Lord of the Rings. MG just seems to make things up as she goes along, and I don’t like to interfere in case I put her off.

Harry the Poisonous Centipede

She’s been reading the Harry the Poisonous Centipede books, which has made her really interested in insects. We looked at the insect displays in Oxford’s Museum of Natural History, and both girls weren’t at all phased by the live tarantula, cockroach, and mantises in glass boxes either.

When they were very young, MG and DG weren’t bothered by insects, but they learned fear as they grew so it’s really good to see that Harry has reduced fear by anthropomorphising creepy crawlies! We’ve been watching YouTube clips of giant poisonous centipedes munching tarantulas and lizards, which led to watching YouTube clips of venomous spiders and gigantic insects!

Luckily Mostly Books have a great offer on Moonlight Publishing‘s gorgeous First Discoveries books, so we bought Animal Camouflage and Let’s Look at Insects to continue the insect theme. The books are for the 5-8 age range, but are suitable for older and are huge fun with see-through plastic pages, especially the ones with a ‘torch’. Some of the titles are aimed at 7-9 year olds.

Moonlight Publishing First Discoveries

Although we don’t home ed, we learn all the time so I’m linking up with Adventures in Home Schooling.
 photo 457afedc-ad8b-48e4-9e95-3710e3866d09_zpscb00a1b7.jpg

Gifts for Curious Children

All children are born explorers, engineers and investigators. Here are a selection of books for curious children to feed their need for discovery, all of which would make excellent gifts.

Alphasaurs, and other Prehistoric Types: Sharon Werner & Sarah Forss (Blue Apple Books, 2012)Alphasaurs, and other Prehistoric Types: Sharon Werner & Sarah Forss (Blue Apple Books, 2012)
There are so many dinosaur books for dino fans, but this one is particularly good for curious children due to the unique illustrations. Each dinosaur is made out of a single letter, in a variety of fonts. This could potentially encourage reluctant writers to have a go at letter formation, but also introduces a world of design – can your child design their own book or magazine using just letters? There are plenty of large flaps to keep interest and a plethora of bitesize dino facts. Our full review can be found here. The same team also created Alphabeasties and Bugs By The Numbers, for your animal loving explorers.

The What on Earth Wallbook: Christopher Lloyd & Andy Forshaw (What on Earth Publishing, 2010)The What on Earth Wallbook: Christopher Lloyd & Andy Forshaw (What on Earth Publishing, 2010)
What on Earth Happened? by Christopher Lloyd is a chunky tome that tells the known history of the planet from creation, through prehistoric eras, to people and world history. The Wallbook is based on this, and is a huge elongated poster packed with illustrations of events across history, that can either be hung on a wall or left in ‘book’ form to pore over and discover interesting snippets that can start a conversation or a project. It has its faults, but is an ambitious idea to try to cover the world in one narrative and the Wallbook is great fun to browse through.
woewallbook

The Story of Things: Neal Layton (Hodder Children's Books, 2009)The Story of Things: Neal Layton (Hodder Children’s Books, 2009)
This is such a fun book! It takes us through a history of ‘things’ from cavepeople who had no possessions, to developing civilisations (I love the page which is of a desert, with four hidden pop-ups of civilisations that came and went, such a clever illustration of the concept), to industry and modern day electronics. There are so many things to lift and pull and peek under that you barely realise that this is actually a history book. Some of the pop-ups are a little flimsy (or maybe that’s just my copy), so it’s not one for heavy handed toddlers, but fixing the odd break is a good engineering skill for the reader too! There are two other books in the series too: The Story of Everything, and The Story of Stars. Excellent fun.

Barefoot Books World Atlas: Nick Crane & David DeanBarefoot Books World Atlas: Nick Crane & David Dean
This really is the perfect primary-age atlas which not only gives an overview of the shape of the world and its countries but covers important information for each continent (or part continent, as some are split) under the headings Physical Features; People and Places; Climate and Weather; Land Use and Natural Resources; Environment; Wildlife; and Transport. Capital cities are clearly marked on the maps and they’re also full of images from the countries to give a sense of the diversity in the world. Lift-up flaps give more ‘did you know?’ facts of historical significance. Not only useful for homework projects, the accessible text and interesting layouts (with something to lift on every page) are likely to have children pouring through this just for fun (and learning lots about the world along the way!) There’s also a world poster in a pocket on the back page for displaying on the wall if wanted. Written in 2011, this is an up-to-date introduction to continents, countries and cultures for a modern audience. Did you know that the Mount Rushmore sculptures took 14 years to complete, The Great Wall of China isn’t visible from the moon, Rubik’s cubes were invented by a Hungarian sculptor, and the keel-billed toucan is the national bird of Belize? You would if you had this Atlas 😉

Maps: Aleksandra Mizieli?ska & Daniel Mizieli?ski (Big Picture Press, 2013)Maps: Aleksandra Mizielieska & Daniel Mizielieski (Big Picture Press, 2013)
This book is HUGE. It is also utterly beautiful and worth every penny of its £20 price tag. Writing about it can’t possibly do it justice. You can view a sneak peak in the video at the end of this list but it’s really one to get in real life and spend hours and hours pouring over. On a simple level, it is literally a book full of maps. It can’t cover the entire world, so there are huge swathes of countries that have been missed out (Maps 2 maybe?!) but each country that is included has been illustrated with a host of national facts: significant buildings, native animals, examples of popular boy and girl names, food, work, historical figures… Major or important cities are marked, and there is a list of capital, languages, population and area. The text is minimal, on the whole it is there to label the illustrations and yet Maps still managed to be packed full of facts. It’s not an Atlas, and doesn’t pretend to be. It is unique, beautiful, and perfect for curious children (and grown-ups).

Ocean Deep: Richard Hatfield (Child's Play, 2011)Ocean Deep: Richard Hatfield (Child’s Play, 2011)
This is a beautifully illustrated exploration into every part of the ocean from rock pools to the deepest depths. The sturdy card pages make this suitable even from early ages, and all ages can appreciate the illustrations before reading the labels to learn all the names, and the text to find out more about the ocean. Each page is cut so you can see further pages into the book, so it feels like you are diving deeper and deeper into the ocean. The design also gives lots for little hands to explore, and the entire book can be displayed on a surface due to the concertina pages. Another one that needs to be seen in real life to be appreciated, full of facts, and some really creepy critters the deeper down you go…

Metamorphoses: Egg Tadpole Frog (Child's Play, 2006)Metamorphoses: Egg Tadpole Frog (Child’s Play, 2006)

This is a(nother) brilliantly clever book from Child’s Play. The shaped cover is tied with ribbon, and inside you find the life cycle story of frogs (Butterflies and Dragonflies are covered in other titles in this series.) This can be read as a book, with very clear and simple text, and pages that sort-of pop up. But… open it up and you have another table display of the entire life cycle with sticking out bits, and… Oh, you just have to see this in real life again, it’s just brilliant! I didn’t hold it very well (one-handed) in the video below but it gives you a rough idea. It really is brilliant, and perfect for young explorers. The back of the pages shown are illustrated with various frog species. The pages are strong card so will withstand lots of play too.

eggtadpolefrog

snowrolypolySnow Roly Poly Box Book: Kees Moerbeek (Child’s Play, 2008)

Child’s Play are definitely getting my thumbs up and full marks for ingenuity for books to entice even the most uninterested-in-books child. There are currently a dozen roly poly box books to choose from, but Snow is perfect for this time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere at least!) It looks like a cube, but pull the arrow on the outside and up pops and owl. follow the arrows and you unfurl a whole host of snow-loving creatures from across the globe. And it’s just as easy to roll back up again too. This is the least book-looking book you’re likely to find! Great for small people to explore.

headoverheelsgymnasticsBoys & Girls Floor Skills: Gemma Coles (Head Over Heels About Gymnastics, 2013)
I have occasional bug bears with independently published books, especially when cost cutting results in a flimsy and unattractive paper book, but it’s clear that careful thought has been put into both use and content with this beautifully produced guide. With a spiral spine, and the ability to stand upright, this book can be used whilst practising the skills inside. The clear, real-world, photographs illustrate gymnastic skills in easy to follow steps from simple to complex. It can’t replace hands on tuition, but it’s been giving my extremely active climbs-the-walls six year old a lot of new fun things to try. I especially love how it is aimed at boys and girls, and the pictures have a boy and girl equally illustrating the skills. For any child with an interest in gymnastics, this would be an excellent starting point before (or as well as) proper tuition. Check out the Head Over Heels About Gymnastics website for a discount on this clear and well produced guide.

How Many?: Ron Van Der Meer (Random House Children's Books, 2007) How Many?: Ron Van Der Meer (Random House Children’s Books, 2007)
When I was searching for pop-up books a couple of years ago, Ron Van Der Meer was recommended and I found How Many? in a discount store. It is full of complex pop-up sculptures in bright colours and geometric shapes. The text asks you to count shapes, colours, lines… or you can just marvel at the complex sculptures. This is definitely not for small children without supervision, as the detailed pop-ups are delicate. It appears to be out of print, although you can get used copies online. Whilst searching for a replacement to write about I discovered this newly reissued Interactive Art Book reviewed at The Little Wooden Horse, which although it doesn’t quite replace the mathematical side of How Many?, does showcase paper engineering skill and artistry.

Because these are all very interactive books, I made this brief video whizzing through a few pages of each to give a taster of what they’re like. They are all much nicer in real life. (The video is soundless)

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDOwtYfc2HE”]

Disclosure: Alphasaurs, The Story of Things, Ocean Deep, Egg Tadpole Frog, Snow, and Gymnastics Floor Skills were sent to us by their respective publishers for review. All other books were purchased or borrowed independently. Barefoot Books links are affiliate links. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Siege by Sarah Mussi

Siege: Sarah Mussi (Hodder Children's Books, 2013)Siege: Sarah Mussi (Hodder Children’s Books, 2013)

Siege is set in a near-future (dystopian) Britain (England) which is scarily very believable. Unlike The Hunger Games or Maggot Moon, this is too close to home and packs a huge emotional punch because of it.

I think Siege will get compared with The Hunger Games for several reasons. The teenage female protagonist wanting to protect her family; the poverty of the people involved; the fight for survival; potential government corruption; children being killed…

This is a YA title that I’d recommend parents and teachers from all walks of life read. I wouldn’t recommend it to children under teenage, but that probably depends on the child. A very mature thirteen and up would be best in my opinion.

Warning: I can’t review this without spoilers. If you prefer not to be spoilered, stop reading now.

Leah Jackson is an average (poor) sixteen year old attending her local Academy School. Since all the cuts, the only non-paying schools are Academies that dump you straight into Volunteer Work Programmes on graduation (daily travel and canteen vouchers supplied, for The Greater Good.) Are you scared yet?

Schooling isn’t free; healthcare isn’t free; the population isn’t free. The government has cut everything and the poor are just expected to be violent wasters, with little opportunity to escape the life they’ve been born into. Since the Riots, the Academies have been fitted with Lock Down, an automatic security system that keeps the kids inside the school with no escape.

On this day, Friday 18 September, a group of kids have started a siege within the school. The school goes into Lock Down, there’s no escape. Due to being late that day, Leah is in detention so thinks the shots she first hears are some kind of fireworks at assembly in the gym. Then the gang start to round-up the rest of the school, and the killings begin.

Told in first person, we find out the setting in snippets throughout the book, as we follow Leah desperately trying to survive; and desperately worrying that her younger brother is one of the shooters. Siege is not a comfortable read, although it took me a few chapters before I was emotionally involved. The first shootings (POW POW POW) didn’t have the deep impact they should have but the narrative grabbed me more the more realistic the setting became to me.

As the politics and action notch up during the last chapters, Siege finishes with a stark list of the casualties of the day. It’s not what you want to read; and with that ending the book knocks you out for the count.

It has its imperfections (Leah’s slang slips and don’t think too hard about the details) but with so much in the news about changes to schooling, and cuts to services, and blaming poverty for violence, Siege is a scary prediction of things that too easily could be.

Source: Copy offered as giveaway by the lovely Karen Lawler @karenlawler on Twitter.

My Cat Pip

mycatpip

I seem to be very good at completely missing out on ‘major brands’, having never heard of Belle and Boo before and now having never heard of Pip the Cat! In both cases this has been a good thing as it means we’ve had no preconceived notions of what to expect and can take the books on their own merits. And in both cases, these books are far more than you’d expect from the average brand tie-in, they’ve all been made with thought and care. The fact that they are ‘brands’ is the only thing Belle and Boo and Pip the Cat have in common, that and the fact they both have a wonderful series of books.

The first four My Cat Pip books were published this month, with a further four coming out in October. These four include two sticker books, a lift-the-flap book and a Where’s Wally style book. The next four include a doodle book, sticker book, search book and activity book. Plenty of different things to choose from and with these A4 books starting at £3.99 they’re good value too.

Purrfect PIP! and Showtime PIP! are sticker books with 11 double page scenes and over 100 stickers. The stickers include outfits to dress up the cats in the scenes and lots of accessories too. I’m so glad we were sent both sticker books because both MG and DG love to spend time on these books personalising the scenes. It’s a great boost for DG’s motor skills and I’m really proud of how she’s sticking the outfits on matching to the cats’ bodies rather than randomly sticking anywhere as she has a tendency to do. MG loves creativity and doesn’t use stickers so much, preferring to draw her own pictures, but she’s really taken to these books and the creative freedom they allow. These books would be great for a long car/bus/etc journey as there’s enough variety and stickers to keep children from a range of ages (approx age 2-8) amused. Great value at £3.99 each.

Where are you PIP? is a Where’s Wally style book suitable for younger children. Pip always has his white badge and can be quite challenging to spot (for me, MG got them all in no time at all!) Once Pip has been found there are a selection of six cute animals; the contents of his backpack; and even more things to spy listed at the back of the book. On top of the search pages there are a few other puzzles scattered through the book too. Unlike Let’s Find Mimi, there’s no overall narrative, this is an activity book and priced accordingly at just £4.99. There’s lots to look at, a great ‘busy book’ for children approx age 3-8.

Pip, Pip, Hooray! is a book packed with gazillions of flaps on every page. Maybe not gazillions, but there are over 50 flaps in the book. The narrative follows Pip and his friends on various activities from cooking, to the park, to a construction site to the beach! The flaps are really innovative in places: for example the see-saw flap gives the impression of the see-saw going up and down, with all the pictures in the background matching up on the flaps. Lots of interest for little hands to explore, this book is probably suitable from around 18 months (it has the “not suitable for children under 36 months” warning on it, but there are no small parts and the only risk would be eating the paper which I’m sure any parent/carer would supervise against!)

All four books have been thoroughly enjoyed and are especially suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers, although older children will still enjoy them too. The bright and bold cartoon illustrations are attractive and fun. Every page is full of all sorts of things to see. We recommend all of them – Pip, Pip, Hooray! 🙂

Disclaimer: We were sent copies of four My Cat Pip books by Hachette Childrens Books for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

First Words, Letters and Numbers

Little Tiger Kids

Little Tiger Press has started a new imprint this month, Little Tiger Kids. These are a series of colourful, sturdy board books with pictures of real things, big flaps, things to trace. All of which appeal to babies and toddlers. We’ve been lucky enough to be sent three to test drive. All three instantly appealed to MG and DG with the bright colours and flaps and they’ve been having fun with them. I’m going to review from a grown up educational viewpoint but in terms of child-appeal, these are winners.

first100wordsMy First Book of Words: 100 First Words (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
There are similar books to this already available and to be fair Priddy Books have probably got the corner on this market but it would be an oversight for Little Tiger Press to have left out a book of this type in their new range, and it makes a nice addition. What Little Tiger Press have got (but I’ve not seen) is a lift-the-flap version of the 100 first words which should prove to be extremely popular. Based on the flaps in the Numbers book that we have seen, these are likely to be extremely robust and great for fine motor skills. Using real pictures is important for very young children who are learning to organise and categorise the world. Cartoon word books are lovely but a child’s absorbent mind also needs reinforcement of the real world.

My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
This is a book with enormous child appeal. The format is perfect. Each single page focusses on one letter. The top half of the page has the letter in upper and lower case, the upper case letter is cut out for tracing. The bottom half of the page has a picture starting with that letter and is also a giant flap with another picture for the letter underneath. Each page has bright, clear colours; uncluttered, real photographs; an easy-to-read-and-write font and start and end points for how to draw the letters. It is almost perfect and the only alphabet book you need to start a child’s journey to letter recognition and learning to read. Almost. It is let down by a lack of phonetic awareness. On chatting with other interested parties (parents and educators) on Twitter about the subject of phonetic ABC books, it was pointed out that many books are printed for a worldwide market where phonetics may not be the prescribed teaching method. In the UK (well, in England at least), every child who goes to a state-run school will be taught to read using synthetic phonics.

Phonics has its detractors but as an initial method in getting children to learn to decode quickly, it is excellent. Maria Montessori used phonetics in her methods for teaching children to read. Montessori also used sandpaper letters to get the children used to the shape of letters when they still hadn’t got the fine motor skills for writing, which this book also emulates in its touchable letter tracing. It’s only the upper case letters which are traceable, which is a pity given that we use lower case letters far more frequently in reality but it’s a good start. I also like how the start and end points for letter tracing are highlighted with red and green dots in this book.

I would still recommend this as possibly the best first ABC book I’ve seen. It ‘fails’ as an introduction to the phonetic alphabet in seven of the fifty-two words it includes. These are: ice-cream, ivy, owl, shoes, unicorn, xylophone and x-ray. Admittedly ‘x’ is impossible to do phonetically if you’re only chosing initial letters as there are no words that start with the /ks/ sound. I’m also not keen on ‘jelly beans’ as it’s two words! If you’re fussy on phonics like me, why not stick photos of igloo, insect, octopus, sock, fox and box in the book! I’ve searched but umbrella does seem to be the only object starting with the short-u sound. Up and Under are probably the best options, but hard to illustrate. In summary, this is an excellent alphabet book which is exactly what it sets out to be.

My First Touch and Trace: First ABC (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)

My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers (Little Tiger Kids, 2013)
Another appealing book for children, this comes with a ‘handle’ so it can be easily carried around. I really can’t stress enough how sturdy these books are. They are made from quality strong board, have pages that feel like they wipe clean easily (we haven’t needed to test this) with big, robust flaps. In first numbers, each page shows a picture of an object or objects (one cake, two kittens, three butterflies etc); the flap can then be opened to reveal simplified pictures of the outside of the flap – for example the outside picture may have things that overlap or are slightly different e.g. different kittens, but the inside picture will have the number of things clearly shown separately and be the same in one or two colours only – plus the number with start and end dots, and tracing guide. Another wonderful ‘first’ book.

All three books have enormous child appeal and would be excellent to share starting with babies who will be attracted to the bright, simple and familiar images; onto toddlers who will love the interactivity and ownership they can take for the books; onto pre-schoolers who can take pride in recognising numbers and letters… The Little Tiger Kids range are priced between £5.99 and £8.99 which is excellent value for money, especially the First ABC book above which is only £5.99. More in the series are being released in May. These include jigsaws, tabs and touchy-feely books. If these were around when my girls were younger we would have bought lots of them!

Disclaimer: We were sent a copies of My First Book of Words: 100 First Words; My First Touch and Trace: First ABC; and My First Lift and Learn: First Numbers by Little Tiger Press for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Learn with Auntie Toks

I live in a very monocultural part of the world. Fortunately there is a wonderful Montessori nursery very close to us which is a perfect microcosm of multiculturalism with children, teachers and assistants from around the globe working and learning together; this is where my daughters spent 30 hours a week from when they were 5 months old until I stopped working (age 2 for DG; and 4 for MG.) Our local village school is wonderful and inclusive, but it’s hard not to notice the sea of mainly-white faces on stage at their end-of-year assemblies. This is not the idea of ‘normality’ I want my children to absorb. Fortunately their very early years nursery experience; their close friends; their parenting; and their school’s excellent teaching counteract the overly monocultural environment they could be experiencing.

Given my worries on the lack of multicultural experiences, I was more than happy to be offered the chance to review this set of story and activity books based on African folk tales and published to supplement the not-for-profit work of The Lighthouse Children’s Workshop. There are two story books and each has an accompanying workbook.

The Elephants Who Always Forgot (Tokunbo Ifaturoti: TOWAT Publishing, 2011)The Elephants Who Always Forgot (Tokunbo Ifaturoti: TOWAT Publishing, 2011)
This is based on a Kenyan folk tale. The storybook includes a CD with three tracks – one is the Lighthouse Children’s theme and the other two are slightly different versions of “We Love The Elephants” from the story, which is simple and catchy. There is also a recipe for Kenyan Kunde, a black-eyes peas and tomato dish. I haven’t attempted to make this with MG and DG but it looks like a straightforward recipe to follow with slightly older children due to the frying and chopping involved.

The story follows a village where people and animals live in harmony, and hunters come to try to steal the tusks from their elephants. Being forgetful, the mummy elephant who runs to warn the villagers forgets why she was running but all ends well – not so much for the hunters! The storybook is set up to be educational so on each page there are questions. These range from observations on the pictures to thinking about other knowledge children may have e.g. “Why did the farmer pick up the knife carefully?” It’s possible to read the story and leave out the questions, or to only use the questions that are most appropriate for the audience.

The activity book to go with the story contains large black and white outline pictures of every picture from the story, with activities on the opposite page. The activities include wordsearches, instructions on how to colour the picture in, counting, talking exercises etc. There is such a variety that you can pick and choose what to use with a particular child, or just use the book for colouring in. There are lovely big pictures of elephants to colour which should appeal to any age.

The Monkey and the Peanuts (Tokunbo Ifaturoti: TOWAT Publishing, 2011)The Monkey and the Peanuts (Tokunbo Ifaturoti: TOWAT Publishing, 2011)
This is based on a Nigerian folk tale. The storybook includes a recipe for Kunu Zaki, a ground millet drink. The ingredients for this would probably require a trip to a more specialist store than a supermarket but I know of many in Oxford (Cowley Road seems to have food shops for almost every culture from Halal supermarkets to Polish and Russian; there’s a Chinese supermarket somewhere more central; and just because I can’t think of an African one offhand just means I haven’t been past it on a bus) so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one in cities at least, and would be a good educational experience for children unfamiliar with these cultures.

The story follows a king who loves every part of his kingdom and a naughty monkey who steals peanuts and learns his manners. Again there are questions on every page of the story, which cover observations and knowledge. I feel this is a calmer story than the Elephant one and is the one I prefer for my children’s age group. A lesson on manners is always a plus!

The activity book is similar to the Elephant one with a colouring page on one side and various activities on the facing pages. In both cases the story books are approximately A5 sized landscape and the activity books approximately A4 sized landscape.

There are many positives for these storybooks and activity books. The font used is one with easily distinguishable b/d; p/q; I/l; a as a circle. I keep pointing out easy reader fonts in books, but they do help early/struggling readers and people with dyslexia so it’s a plus point in my mind. The copyright page says the font is Baskerville, which it isn’t, but that’s a plus! There are so many different questions and activities that it covers a wide range of education and age ranges, from early years to late primary / early secondary.

However, the packed nature of the questions on every page of the story and the different styles of questions on each page of the colouring book may be overwhelming to a struggling reader attempting to read everything. It might be worth taking the activity book apart and using as worksheets if that is an issue. The story and activity books are more of a workbook / reading scheme format, these are really for educational use than just stories even though you can read the stories as stand-alone folk tales too.

I have some reservations about some of the artwork, especially the pictures depicting the hunters and their knives in the Elephant story which may be a bit too frightening for small children and the scary cyclops monkey on the front cover of the Monkey story! But on the whole children should find the stories and pictures amusing, the Monkey one especially with MG and DG. These are designed as educational books, and as such they are good value for money. It’s worth getting the story and activity book for either (or both) tales together.

All four books can be bought from Lighthouse Children for £5.99 each with free shipping. They would be perfect for home educators, youth groups, schools and other educational establishments as well as home use.

Disclaimer: We were sent copies of these books by Tokunbo Ifaturoti for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Teaching Rainbows

It was Takeover Day on Friday, a day when children are encouraged to join in decision making and responsibilities. MG’s school offered the opportunity for every child in years 1 to 6 to ‘apply’ for a school job. These included headteacher, secretary, class teacher, kitchen assistant, pre-school supervisor and maintenance. MG loves playing school with her little sister so her first choice was teacher, she chose to teach her own class (year 1 and 2 mixed).

After chatting together, taking MG’s ideas and interests and trying to simplify them to fit in a 25 minute teaching slot, she chose teaching about rainbows as it was a mix of art and also a bit sciencey which are her favourite things. I suggested showing how to make a rainbow out of three colours because it really needed to be simple – we left out lots of things like using prisms to split white light and talking about primary colours of paint and light! I wrote something for MG to read and made the templates for making the rainbow. Paint wasn’t an option giving the time constraints but cutting and sticking coloured cellophane was probably a lot more fun anyhow!

As MG was at school and is tired after, I did the preparation but it was all based on her ideas. Okay, I maybe took over a little… But she felt that it was hers, she gave the lesson and she input into everything so she was happy. Phew! I made up 30 packs which had a cutting template, sticking template, coloured cellophane (approx 16x24cm pieces) and a paper plate.

The paper plate was for making freestyle rainbows or patterns with the left over cellophane after making the rainbow from the template. I’m not a school teacher so I overestimated the time. For one or two children, this could be done in 25 minutes but in a big class with people not listening etc, even with doing it in pairs they didn’t all finish. I also underestimated the cellophane. It looked like plenty but 5-7 year olds make more mistakes and want more cellophane (so working in pairs was good for that too!)

I didn’t have time to shop online for cellophane, and traipsed round Oxford before eventually managing to get some in the art shop I should have gone to in the first place! But I could only get one roll of each colour, each of which was approx 500mm x 2.5m so 24x16cm (approx) was the only way I could get 30 pieces from the roll. It really did look as if it should be plenty big enough! I would therefore suggest, if doing this for a class of 30, to get two rolls of at least the red cellophane (assuming rolls the same size) and cut bigger pieces. For smaller groups, perhaps individual A4 sheets of coloured cellophane or acetate. I did look at tissue paper, but it wasn’t transparent enough. Also, the red we got was too deep so the orange and purple didn’t look as nice as they might have!

In case MG got too shy when she was faced with her entire class, I wrote teaching notes of the order she was to go through her sheets. I wrote a bit of blurb for her to read as background to the activity, and I created the cutting and sticking templates. As we’re using three colours, you need to cut each one to cover three lines of the rainbow so the cutting template isn’t as simple as six arches. And because it worked so well, you can download these three files for your own use 🙂

Rainbow Lesson – Teacher Notes

Rainbow Lesson – Templates

Rainbow Lesson – About Rainbows

The picture above shows MG’s teaching pack! I laminated everything mainly because I could, but also to separate it as being MG’s. I laminated the cellophane template pieces into three sheets so that MG could easily hold and show the three colours and put them together to show the rainbow. We had colour paddles so I put them in too in case she wanted to show the colour mixes with them.

At the end of the day, when I picked her up from school, MG was buzzing with excitement from the whole day. She’d given her lesson (a little shy at first but her teacher stood with her to start with) and the children really enjoyed it, as did she! I am utterly proud of her achievement. Okay, and a teeny bit proud of me for creating the templates and managing to get the blurb pitched at the right reading level for MG!

I’m linking this up with Montessori Monday because I think it would work well as a hands-on unit lesson. It can be simplified for very young children, there’s opportunities for hands on experimentation with colour mixing, and it can be a springboard to further study. Enjoy, and please visit Living Montessori Now for tons of brilliant Montessori inspired ideas.

Montessori Monday from Living Montessori Now

Gloop

Gloop is a fantastic substance. It feels solid but runs through fingers like liquid. On top of that, all it is made from is cornflour and water so is quick and easy to set up for messy sensory play.

Gloop

We currently have a ban on gloop after the mess caused by the last two sessions! One of the main problems being that I wasn’t sure on the cornflour to water ratio and when you give small children a jug of water they tend to empty the entire jug in one go so we ended up with very wet gloop.

Gloop

MG and DG didn’t mind at all. They were far more interested in pretend playing cooking than feeling the sensory qualities! I added food colouring and scent to the water to make it more interesting. The trays are cat litter trays – they’ve never been used for that purpose though.

Gloop

For a more successful gloop session, have a look at Rainy Day Mum 🙂 There are also some interesting videos about gloop here.