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Super Stories For Starting School

Book blog starting school preview

A happy new year to you all, and welcome back to the MTA Book Blog!

It doesn’t feel like very long ago at all that we were shining a light on our picture books for brighter times — I do hope you were able to enjoy that fantastic Brighter Times discount! And now here we are at the start of a brand-new year, hopefully full of brighter times ahead but definitely full of fabulous books just waiting to be discovered!

In the spirit of things that are brand new, for this first post of 2022, we’re going to be taking a closer look at some perfect picture books to support children who are starting school for the very first time this year.

Starting school is undoubtedly one of the most enormous and most emotional milestones in a young child’s life, and never more so than right now. With many of the children moving up into primary school this year having spent the last two years with decidedly disrupted routines, the transition to primary school is likely to be one that is approached with understandably increased anxiety and trepidation. As always, books to the rescue.

We have selected some utterly wonderful picture books to help young children prepare for the move mentally, physically and emotionally in our Starting School Book Pack. So grab your lunchbox, say one last goodbye to the cat and check you’ve got your lucky scrunchie, because we’re off to school!

 

‘First Day’ by Andrew Daddo and Johnathan Bentley

First Day book cover and quote

We start the day with the sweet and touching ‘First Day’ by Aussie author/illustrator duo Andrew Daddo and Johnathan Bentley. In ‘First Day’, we join a little girl and her mum as they prepare for the first day of school. But who is reassuring who?

In this cleverly written story, it’s not until the final page that the narrator becomes clear, and we realise that it’s the little girl who has been speaking the comforting words to her mother throughout, coaching her through the day, anticipating the challenges and conceding that she too has some first-day nerves.

‘I might have to be a bit brave, too.

But it’s not for long.

Let’s meet here when the bell goes.’

The transposition of traditional adult/child roles in books is always a source of delight for children, and ‘First Day’ is a great example of this. In demonstrating that those feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are not only natural but also shared by a big-brave-all-knowing adult, the book brilliantly models emotional vulnerability and allows children to find comfort in knowing they’re not alone in their first-day feelings.

 

‘Starting School’ by Jane Godwin and Anna WalkerStarting School book cover and quote

For our next lesson, we’ll be looking at the gorgeously illustrated ‘Starting School’ by another Aussie author/illustrator team, Jane Godwin and Anna Walker. In this story, we are introduced to five children on their first day of school. Each child has different expectations coming into the classroom, and each one has a very different first-day experience.

‘Polly is trying to be brave.

Sunita doesn’t know anyone, but she feels ready for school.

Hannah feels excited, but Tim doesn’t want to leave his mum.

Joe has found an interesting book about dinosaurs.’

For me, it’s this diversity in the experiences that are presented that is the most valuable element of ‘Starting School’. As children approach school age, this also coincides with the development of their ‘theory of mind’; the understanding that other people have motivations, emotions and experiences of events that may differ from their own. This is crucial for a child’s social-emotional development, particularly within the context of establishing new friendships and relationships in a school community.

A follow-up discussion with your new starters about which one of the children in the story — if any — had the same feelings they did on their first day will encourage children to share their own experiences, promote empathy and further develop their theory of mind as they acknowledge the diversity of experiences within their new classroom.

 

‘The Wild Guide to Starting School’ by Laura and Philip BuntingThe Wild Guide to Starting School book cover and quote

For our final lesson of the day, we’re in for a real treat with an adorably hilarious picture book from powerhouse Aussie husband-and-wife team Laura and Philip Bunting. If laughter is the best medicine, then allow me to prescribe a big gulp of ‘The Wild Guide to Starting School’ to soothe those first-day jitters. ‘The Wild Guide to Starting School’ reads as a how-to guide that will have your little ones giggling on every page as they learn what to do and — importantly — what not to do when they get to school. Helpful tips include:

  • Scissors are for chopping paper, not haircuts.
  • When making new friends, try to avoid licking.
  • It is not okay to eat the teacher.
  • Do not poop in the sandpit.
  • Do not poop on your teacher.
  • You don’t win friends with poop.

At this point I should probably point out that the characters in ‘The Wild Guide to Starting School’ are all Australian animals (although would it be that much of a stretch?), which adds fantastic comic value and allows for some truly brilliant illustrations. However, amongst the silliness there is genuinely helpful advice, as well as some big-hearted truths about how devoted and caring teachers are and how everyone is feeling lots of Big Feelings, all of which are valid and all of which are perfectly normal.

 

There goes the bell! That means it’s time to wrap up this week’s post, tidy our tables, gather our things (how did I lose my sock?) and head on home, ready to do it all again next time!

So, if you’re looking for the perfect picture books to ease your new starters into your classroom — or if you’re an early childhood educator looking to help prepare your intrepid little learners and ensure their transition to primary school is as smooth as possible — then look no further than the titles in the Starting School Book Pack. These sweet, relatable and fiendishly funny books will fill your little ones with knowledge, confidence and empathy as they embark upon this most exciting of new adventures.

 

See you on the playground!*

 

*kidding, I’ll be in the library.

 

 

About the Author

Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for eight years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.

 

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Back-to-School Essentials

Back to school classroom overhead view

Every new school year brings with it a level of excitement for both teachers and students. It is my favourite time of the year as everyone begins with a fresh start and an enthused energy for the year ahead. For teachers, we have the privilege of getting to teach a new class of students, designing the learning space from a blank canvas, and for many, the always-elusive goal to be more organised.

In this post I will be sharing some of my must-have resources for the classroom along with my favourite beginning-of-the-year activities to get to know your students and for your students to get to know each other.

 

Classroom Must-Haves:
When setting up my classroom I always like to have a theme or colour scheme. Over the years some of my favourite themes that I have created have been based on butterflies, ‘Up in the Sky’ (hot air balloons, planes), the ocean and the circus. I love having the colours of the learning space, resources and display boards match to set the tone of a creative organised space that welcomes students to our class.

Some items I love to include in my classroom are;


Classroom Caddies Laptrays and Chairbags

These products can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom and the best thing is that they all match.

 

Lap Trays
These Lap Trays are a great addition to any junior primary classroom. They allow for flexibility in the learning space during group work and also during independent learning. I love that these trays provide students with a hard surface to complete tasks in their books so they do not need to write on the carpet or flooring. I use these daily with my students during small group work that takes place on the floor space around the class. Many students also choose to use the Lap Trays during independent learning time so they can work in a quiet spot or away from others. In my classroom, I have a beautiful courtyard outside where my students sometimes choose to go outside to work and these Lap Trays allow them to have a suitable surface to work on.

 

Children with Laptrays sitting on floor

 

Classroom Book Caddies
These Book Caddies are a great way to store take-home readers and student books. I organise my student books in these Book Caddies and have labels on them for maths, reading, writing and inquiry books. I like having them all together for two reasons; the first being that students do not need to go to their tubs to get their specific book, rather I can either have the class captain hand the books out or I can call out student names to collect, and the second being that at the end of a learning experience students place all their books back into the Book Caddy and then I can easily view and assess their learning rather than searching through each student’s tub for their book.

 

Book caddies filled with books on desk

 

Classroom Caddies
These Classroom Caddies are perfect for shared stationery and the vibrant colours stand out when placed on classroom tables. The compartments in the Classroom Caddies allow for pencils, pens, scissors, glue, rulers to be stored neatly, making them easily accessible for student use.

Classroom Caddies are also a great resource for sharing required activity materials. During STEM and Inquiry Learning activities I use the Classroom Caddies to provide each group or table with the resources they need for the specific activity. I can organise the materials prior to the lesson and, upon completion, students can return the materials in an orderly way making clean up a lot more efficient.

Filled Classroom Caddies on classroom floor

 

Chair Bags
These beautiful Chair Bags provide students with a place to store their essentials without the hassle of a tub. I love the various pocket sizes which allow for students to store their devices, exercise books and the book they are reading, along with their essential classroom resources like a ruler, pencil case etc.

Filled Chairbags and Classroom Caddies on Desk in classroom

 

Beginning-of-the-Year Activities:
At the beginning of the school year the priority should be on developing relationships with your students and getting to know what they each like and are interested in. Spending time undertaking activities that highlight student personalities will support you as the teacher but also allow students to get to know each other and begin to develop new friendships. These activities also provide teachers with an insight to see how students work together, interact and complete tasks.

These are my favourite activities to get to know your students:

Jigsaw Activity:

Jigdraw DIY jigsaw activity

Materials
Jigdraw – 20 Pack 
– Snap-lock bags

Each student receives a blank Jigdraw template with 20 pieces. Students draw a different image on each puzzle piece that represents something about themselves. Some ideas for images can be family, pets, hobbies, favourite food, favourite places etc.

Students place their completed Jigdraw pieces into a snap lock bag.

The snap lock bags are then randomly handed out to students who need to put the puzzle pieces together and then try to guess which student is represented by the images.

These Jigdraw blocks are also a great resource to use for students to share their learning during inquiry learning. They can then build upon their ideas and knowledge as the learning continues throughout the year.


Chalk Mindmaps

DIY Chalkboard Signs activity

Materials – Sidewalk Chalk 

Chalk is a great resource to have in any classroom. I have found the Sidewalk Chalk to be the perfect size and thickness for student use and it comes in great colours. Students can use the Sidewalk Chalk to draw directly onto concrete, but I have created blackboard-painted timber pieces for student use across many learning areas.

Students receive a number of blackboard-painted timber pieces and draw a giant Mindmap to highlight the topic they are given. The topic gets placed in the centre and then students write or draw their ideas and place them around the topic to create their giant mind map. This is a great visualisation too.

Some ideas I like to focus on at different times are;

    • Looking forward to this school year
    • Holiday reflection
    • Inquiry brainstorm, questions, wonderings
    • Spelling words
    • End-of-term reflections


I hope this blog post has provided you with some inspiration to help you set up your classroom or provide you with some beginning-of-the-year activity ideas to get to know your students.

 

Featured Products:

 

About the author

Eleni Kyritsis is an award-winning Year 3 teacher and Leader of Curriculum and innovation from Melbourne, Australia. Eleni facilitates professional learning workshops around the world that focus on unleashing creativity and curiosity in classrooms. You can contact her at elenikyritis.com and @misskyritsis

 

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Creating Welcoming & Calming Learning Spaces

Creating Welcoming & Calming Learning Text and Plant pot Vector graphic

What a year it’s been!

In fact, what a few years it’s been! A few years of a rapidly evolving ‘new normal’ which is affecting us all in countless ways. We’re all impacted by what’s happening around us, and when the physical and emotional demands of our day-to-day tasks and experiences exceed the amount of energy we have, over a long period of time this can lead to feeling overwhelmed and drained.

Often called burnout, many of us are experiencing physical and emotional exhaustion, and this includes educators, the families who rely on education and care settings and of course the children, who may be struggling to cope with events and changes happening in the world around them. There’s a lot to process!

In this piece we will discuss some of the valuable ways in which learning spaces can be shaped to support and respond to children’s and families’ needs, ensuring everyone feels safe, connected and comfortable in the setting, including all the great educators out there worth their weight in gold!

 

Comfy & Cosy Spaces

Young girl sat on beanbag chair in childcare learning environment

 

Soft furnishings ensure children have access to a comfortable learning environment and can include anything from rugs and carpets to cushions, canopies, netting, fabrics and more!

Soft furnishings can transform a loud and busy learning environment by absorbing noise and helping to create pockets of calm where children can, for example, snuggle into a big cushion to read a book, or lie down and have a rest in a cosy and comfy spot. Soft furnishings can modify a rustic cubby house into an inviting and comfortable cave or create a welcoming area for the class to sit together to yarn, share stories and plan out the day’s events.

 

Featured Product:

MTA Spaces –  Navy Foam-Filled Lounger 

 

 

Calming & Reflective Spaces

Young girl sat in cosy nook reading

 

Calming and reflective spaces offer a peaceful learning setting in which children can embrace quiet. Here, children can spend time relaxing and reflecting away from the hustle and bustle of a busy classroom.

Cushions, fabrics, tents and dens can all contribute to quiet and reflective spaces, making cosy and comfortable spots for children to explore and make their own.

Combine these spaces with books, puzzles, soft toys, tea parties or anything else that children would like to add to their retreat. A calming and reflective space can be just the thing to refuel children’s energy.

 

Featured Product:

Stockholm Spaces – Cosy Retreat 

 

 

Spaces of Belonging

Peg People of the world on table

 

The way children and their families are welcomed into the learning environment makes an incredible difference to their sense of belonging. Belonging is all about feeling connected and secure, valued and accepted with the community’s people and place. A deep sense of belonging ensures the emotional wellbeing of children and their families can thrive, including their self-worth, confidence, capability and adaptability, to name a few.

Feeling secure and connected within their social and physical learning environments will also ensure that these settings become places of safety and refuge for children and families to work through the challenges and difficulties they might be experiencing.

Educators are in an excellent position to build a sense of belonging, not only with their words and actions but also with the physical settings too. Seeing welcoming resources such as wall hangings or displays or children’s names on parent communication pockets will invite families into the settings. Classroom journals will also empower children and their families to contribute to the program and the day’s happenings.

A place where everyone belongs.

 

Featured Product:

Peg People of the World

 

 

Mindful Spaces

Birds eye view of young girl surrounded by mindful picture cards

 

Affirmations, mindfulness and restful breathing activities, including yoga, can all help ‘cultivate calm’ while fostering a peaceful and positive mindset. Creating a daily ritual with affirmations and yoga
or meditation and breathing will empower young children to nurture their self-awareness, set positive intentions and work through emotional regulation in healthy and helpful ways.

Focusing on gratitude – the feeling of appreciation – is also a powerful way to see the silver lining when everything seems gloomy. These Positive Mindset Affirmation Cards and I Am Me Affirmation Cards can enable the building of confidence, resilience and self-esteem by helping children to find the sunny side of any situation.

 

Featured Product:

Mindful & Co Kids Yoga Flash Cards

 

 

Engaging & Inspiring Spaces

MTA Light table with chids hands and coloured shapes on top

 

It’s hard to feel motivated when you’re burnt out.

Refreshing your learning environment with a new and exciting project can go a long way in helping to reignite energy and enthusiasm. Light boxes and panels along with light box resources are wonderful tools to drive children’s motivation to explore and investigate with energy and enthusiasm. They light up the room in the most magical of ways, in turn bringing delight and wonder to learning curriculums.

Creating an engaging and inspiring learning environment ensures everyone wants to come back for more. What will happen today? The possibilities for discovery are endless!

 

Featured Product:

Stockholm Spaces – Round Table & Light Panel

 

 

Culturally Meaningful Spaces

Young girl playing with culturally meaningful resources on table

 

Culturally meaningful curriculums in early childhood settings increase opportunities for its community members to feel connected – a place to feel safe and secure, to feel loved, appreciated and valued. A place to belong.

If you’re thinking, ‘This sounds great, but where do I begin?’, a good starting point is to have a wander through your setting. Does everything in your setting reflect the diverse backgrounds of its community members (the children and their families, the educators and service staff, as well as the wider community at large)?

There’s no end to the items that you can meaningfully interweave throughout your environment. Include dolls, figurines, pretend food, dress-ups and props from around the world. Ensure children’s books portray the diversity of the world’s peoples, perspectives, cultures and abilities in a positive light. Make sure there are truly authentic cultural and Indigenous resources for children to connect with on a daily basis. Invite educators and families to share their cultural backgrounds – learn some keywords and phrases from different languages, learn a song or dance, cook foods from around the world or engage in traditional storytelling.

 

Featured Product:

Fair Trade Aboriginal Ceremony Matching Game

 

 

Purposeful Spaces

Childcare centre furniture

 

Learning spaces that are set up purposefully can bring safety and comfort and a sense of calm to the environment. The physicality of the space (the size, furniture placement etc.) communicates what is to happen, providing clear boundaries and fostering behaviours of motivated and engaged learners. Create breakaway areas, book corners and home corners or simply direct foot traffic in safe and effective ways.

How can a purposeful space be created? It might be through using non-fixed furniture pieces that can be easily moved around the room to create and define predictable play spaces. Open-backed shelving also acts as a barrier while allowing for maximum supervision. Rugs and carpets define a learning space, while the number of chairs, cushions and pillows communicate how many children the area is suitable for at any one time.

The resources chosen to join the space will also encourage positive behaviours. Organised and uncluttered spaces with a considered selection of materials will invite children to develop their skills and interests while interacting in positive ways and achieving learning goals.

 

Featured Product:

Stockholm Spaces – Circular Low Table

 

 

Creative Spaces

Paining easel with paintings hanging in childcare learning environment

 

With all those big feelings and emotions children are experiencing, spaces in which children can express themselves with art become even more important. The creative and expressive arts (including painting and drawing, dance, drama, music and movement) all allow children to work through their feelings and emotions by creatively expressing themselves, which is especially important when the words can’t be found.

Providing a space that includes a wide variety of creative materials ensures children have endless opportunities to process what’s happening in their world and come to terms with their experiences. A space where children’s voices and perspectives are seen and heard.

Creative spaces aren’t just for children though! A selection of art materials in the staff room can provide a creative strategy for educators to relieve stress. Drawing or colouring-in for adults can help boost positive feelings or simply take your mind off things.

 

Featured Product:

Premium Wooden 4-Sided Easel

 

 

Storytelling Spaces

Young girl and boy reading large storybooks in earlychildhood centre classroom

 

Grab a comfy cushion – it’s storytime!

Books that gently and sensitively capture the lived experience of lockdown, such as While We Can’t Hug, Share Your Rainbow and Windows are invaluable in helping children make sense of an ever-changing ‘new normal’ during the current pandemic. The Fun & Humour Book Pack is guaranteed to make children laugh with continuous joy and entertainment, while the Emotional Development Book Pack celebrates some important milestones in young children’s emotional development with just the right touch of imagination.

Whether it’s everyday shared reading with the Big Books Mixed Carton or storybooks that delve into specific topics, books are a powerful way for children to explore and process their feelings and emotions, supporting and empowering them to identify and articulate the things they are experiencing.

 

 

Multigenerational Spaces

White cots and blue armchair & cushions

 

Adult-sized furniture pieces ensure educators have places to sit safely and comfortably throughout the day, as well as provide welcoming statements for families to participate. Whether it’s reading a story from the Intergenerational Shared Reading Pack or providing a space for carers to feed their little ones before setting off, adult-sized armchairs, sofas, chairs and cushions will ensure a homelike setting where all the members of the learning community feel comfortable and welcome.

Featured Product:

Aalto – Full-Size High Back Armchair

 

A well thought out learning environment has the power to support the wellbeing of children & their families – and educators too! It can encourage exploration, enquiry and discovery – and can include open spaces to move about, cosy nooks to hide away and everything in between. It can respond to individuals needs and interests, provide stimulation and excitement, security and comfort, demonstrate cultural diversity and perhaps most importantly- a deep sense of belonging for all.

 

Thanks for joining us over here at the Modern Teaching Blog today!

 

 

About the Author
Penny Groen is an Early Childhood Teacher who has been working in Early Childhood Education and Care settings around Sydney for 17 years. She has a passion for working in meaningful partnerships with families and communities, providing a responsive and engaging curriculum where everyone feels welcome to contribute. You can see Penny’s interest in the natural world with all the weird and wonderful experiments growing both inside and outside the classroom. Penny is also known for equipping children with the tools to explore their interests and celebrate the discoveries each day brings.

 

 

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Explicit Instruction – What Does This Mean?

Children reading in classroom

I started my career as an occupational therapist. My job was to help people relearn how to do things in their everyday life after experiencing an illness or disability. To do this I had to do two things: firstly, I had to analyse the task to establish exactly what the person needed in order to be able to carry out the task and secondly I had to find out what they could and could not do. Only then could I develop a plan to help them master the task. I have applied this same approach – task analysis and assessment of skills and knowledge – to the process of teaching and learning literacy skills.

Mastering a skill of any sort usually involves learning strategies and techniques with lots of practice to hone the skill so that it can be used in different situations. Think about how we teach young children to play a sport. Children who want to play football for example, spend a lot of time learning the skills of ball handling, working with others and understanding the rules of the game. With those skills in place, they are then ready to start playing a game of football.

Whether children start playing football as pre-schoolers or come to the game later, they still have to master these skills and learn the rules of the game. Practice sessions continue to teach and refine these skills and budding footballers spend a lot of time honing their skills so that they can use them automatically and efficiently in a game.

This approach to teaching a sport works well when teaching literacy. Writing and reading are complex processes. Just like a game of football, they require the ‘player’ to master a range of skills and knowledge and to understand how to use them. Just like in football, some children pick up the skills effortlessly and master them with only a small amount of practice. Others take longer, and some decide that football is not for them because the skills required seem too hard to master. Being able to read and write is not like football – playing football is optional, learning to read and write is not. The way we teach children to read and write has to be successful. We need to explicitly teach the skills and knowledge they need to learn if they are to become successful readers and writers.

 

So what does explicit instruction mean for literacy?

It means understanding what is involved in learning to read and write. It means finding out what skills and knowledge students already have and where they have gaps. It means using assessment to drive instruction – to teach the skills and knowledge students have not mastered but need to learn. Sometimes this means whole class instruction and sometimes it means giving students the extra instruction and practice they need in small groups or individually.

 

Explicit instruction to close the gaps

I wrote Catch Up Your Code’ and Sort Out Your Syllables’ to address gaps in literacy knowledge for students in upper primary and secondary classrooms. From Year 5 and beyond, students are required to read more and more complex texts in subject areas that are often new to them. The language is more formal, and many words are multisyllabic, abstract and technical. Students who have not mastered the ability to decode automatically and efficiently will struggle. It is estimated that the average fifth year student encounters about ten thousand new words – described as an “orthographic avalanche” that overwhelms most of those without adequate decoding skills.

 

Teach decoding explicitly

If decoding is not automatic, the skills and knowledge needed must be taught explicitly. First and foremost, students need an in-depth knowledge of how the alphabetic code of English works. ‘Catch Up Your Code teaches this. To decode efficiently, students must recognise graphemes and be able to pronounce them in different ways. Once they have a conscious understanding of the diverse nature of grapheme-phoneme relationships, they can use this knowledge as a foundation for learning to decode unfamiliar multisyllabic words.

That’s where Sort Out Your Syllables’ comes in. Students use their knowledge of the code for the vowel sounds of English, to find and pronounce syllables in unfamiliar words. These two areas of knowledge and skill – alphabetic code knowledge and strategies for decoding multisyllabic words – will dramatically improve decoding skills in the upper years. If decoding isn’t efficient by Year 5, it will not become so, without explicit instruction that targets gaps in knowledge and skills.

 

Sorting vowel spelling patterns – the key to finding syllables in words

These Year 7 and 8 students are working collaboratively to learn about the nine types of vowel spelling patterns they will find in syllables.

Sorting spelling patterns activity on classroom deskSorting vowel patterns activity on classroom desk

 

Teach the skills for writing explicitly

From Year 5 onwards, students are required to write longer, more complex scripts in different writing genres. The expectation is that they should have mastered the foundation skills for writing: to write speedily and legibly, to spell most high-frequency words correctly, to use spelling strategies to spell most words close to correctly, to write in paragraphs, to use punctuation correctly, to proofread their writing for spelling and punctuation errors, to revise and edit their work to improve the content. Unfortunately, many students who find handwriting and correct spelling a challenge will struggle to master the other higher-order skills of writing, regardless of their potential to write as well as they can speak.

The way to improve writing skills is to explicitly target the areas that need improvement, starting with the foundation skills. If handwriting is a major challenge by Year 5, students may be best to use a digital device to avoid illegible handwriting hindering their writing progress.

If they struggle to spell words correctly, a range of strategies are needed. Firstly, students need to be able to write every sound of English in at least one way and they also need knowledge of the diversity of the code. ‘Catch Up Your Code’ teaches this. They need to know how to write multisyllabic words they can say but not spell. Sort Out Your Syllables’ teaches this.

They then need to learn about the spelling system of English – the rules and conventions that affect why words are written the way they are. Once they are fluent in getting words on the page in a form that can easily be read – even if they are not all spelt correctly – they can then be taught strategies for punctuation and paragraphing, authorship, proofreading and editing. All the skills for writing need to be taught explicitly, starting with those that build the foundation for authorship.

 

Summary

Explicit instruction for literacy is simply targeting the knowledge and skills that research has shown to be essential for students to learn to read and write, and ensuring they are taught in a logical, sequential and direct way. It doesn’t matter whether students have just started school or have been at school for a while – everyone benefits from explicit instruction.

Use assessments to find out what students know and can do. Teach what they need to learn.
Check they have learned it. Leave nothing to chance.

 

The way we teach has to ensure all students become successful readers and writers. Teaching skills and knowledge explicitly is the best way to ensure this happens.

 

Featured Products:

Catch Up Your Code

Sort Out Your Syllables

 

About the Author
Joy Allcock (M.Ed). Independent Literacy consultant, facilitator of teacher professional
development throughout New Zealand and internationally. Presenter at NZ and international literacy conferences (IRA, ASCD/ACEL). Author of a range of literacy resources for teachers and students (
www.joyallcock.co.nz). Leader of Shine Literacy Research Project (designed and evaluated by Massey University – www.literacysuccess.org.nz)

 

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Books For Brighter Times

Brighter Times Books inside spread preview

Rise and shine, it’s book blog time!

Welcome back to the MTA Book Blog, this month coming to you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from a very different-looking Sydney.

We were thrilled that so many of you enjoyed and responded to the last post, Picture Books For Unsettling Times, in which we looked at some beautiful books to help open up a dialogue and support students during various challenging times in their lives. Now, as many of us begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a very challenging 18 months, what better time to look forward and celebrate the brighter days ahead!

For many students, the lifting of lockdown restrictions heralds a return to the classroom, a reduction in screen-based interaction and a rediscovery of many fun social activities they have likely missed out on throughout the pandemic. In this post, I’ll be shining a spotlight on four dazzlingly delightful books that celebrate some of the aspects of post-lockdown life that students can look forward to, steering them towards a positive frame of mind as they refamiliarise themselves with face-to-face learning and social experiences.

So, draw back the curtains and settle down with me as we bathe in the glow of these glorious books for brighter times.

 

‘Your Birthday Was The Best!’ by Maggie Hutchings and Felicita SalaBrighter Times: Your Birthday Was The Best Book cover and quote

We begin with a shiny new picture book (shortlisted for this year’s CBCA Book of the Year Awards) that will have your students giggling, squirming and then giggling some more! In ‘Your Birthday Was The Best’, we meet a cockroach who reminisces fondly about all the fun he had at a children’s birthday party, seemingly unaware that he wasn’t invited…

‘I was happy to see you. And you were so excited to see me you screamed!’

The hilarious juxtaposition between the narrative led by the endearingly earnest cockroach and the reality of the human characters’ experience – captured so magnificently by the horrified expressions of the guests in Sala’s gorgeous illustrations – will not only have your students falling about with laughter but is also a fabulous opportunity to promote and develop visual literacy skills.

Your students will likely have experienced very different birthdays during lockdown; whether that means a smaller celebration within the household, a Zoom party or a procession of drive-by well-wishers, there’s a good chance that many of them will have missed out on the shenanigans associated with a birthday party with all the trimmings. This hilarious and cheeky tale will evoke memories of lively birthday parties gone by and will certainly spark an excitable discussion of future party plans. ‘Your Birthday Was the Best’ also provides an excellent springboard for a fun creative writing prompt, perhaps directing students to recount their own birthday hijinks or to rewrite the account of the cockroach-crashed party from the perspective of one of the human guests.

 

‘Dinosaur Day Out’ by Sara ActonBrighter Times: Dinosaur Day Out Book cover and quote

In the delightfully charming ‘Dinosaur Day Out’, we join Sally and Max as they head to the museum with Dad to visit the dinosaur exhibit, only to discover that they are not the only ones enjoying a day out. The children embark on a tremendous hands-on dino experience, while the totally oblivious Dad narrates from his book. Similarly to ‘Your Birthday Was The Best’, the comical contrast between the different experiences of the characters in ‘Dinosaur Day Out’ is conveyed entirely through the illustrations, again supporting those important visual literacy skills. The irony that the adult character remains completely unaware of the extraordinary events taking place right under (or above) his nose is sure to delight your students.

Excursions have been largely off the cards for the past 18 months and this sweet, imaginative tale of an extra-special interactive day out captures the thrill of exploration and discovery that only an excursion brings. It will reignite students’ excitement for hands-on, real-life learning experiences as opposed to digital ones.

 

‘Lots of Frogs’ by Howard Calvert and Claudia BoldtLots Of Frogs Book cover and quote

Next, we come to one of my favourite rhyming picture books, ‘Lots of Frogs’, where we join Tommy Fox on his doomed quest to keep a lid on his box of trouble-making frogs. This brilliant rhyming story is positively leaping with laugh-out-loud imagery and is propelled forwards by a rhythm that’s as lively and bouncy as Tommy’s frogs.

‘Net’s quite full, halfway there. Look! There’s five on teacher’s chair!’

The book takes us all around the school as we follow Tommy on his mission to get those naughty frogs back in their box, and even the staffroom isn’t off limits! Students will delight in the hilarious images of frogs wreaking havoc around the school and I guarantee that the whole classroom will erupt in a fit of giggles when you reach the line about a frog jumping in the headteacher’s hair! This fast-paced rhyming story is bursting with positive imagery and language associated with the school environment and is sure to help strengthen and reinforce students’ associations with the classroom as a place of enjoyment and enrichment.

 

‘Unplugged’ by Steve AntonyBrighter Times: Unplugged Book cover and quote

Yes, I know I say this a lot, but this is one of my favourite ever picture books! In ‘Unplugged’, by author/illustrator Steve Antony, we meet Blip, an adorable robot who spends her days completely absorbed by her computer, which is just fine by her. However, when a power cut leads to Blip becoming unplugged, she suddenly finds herself blinking in the bright lights of ‘outside’…

Anthony’s clever narrative device of repeating the exact same activities that Blip enjoys on her computer as she does outside (learning new things, playing fun games, dancing to music and visiting faraway places) allows him to sidestep a preachy or judgemental tone when comparing the two different environments for these experiences. Equally, the artistic technique of having the screen-based illustrations in black and white and the outside illustrations in full colour subtly conveys the idea of the richness and depth of analogue experiences compared to two-dimensional digital ones without being overtly critical of screen-based activities.

For the past 18 months, our entire lives have been lived mostly online, our learning, teaching and even our socialising have all been confined to the digital space. ‘Unplugged’ is a celebration of what happens when we switch off our digital lives and enjoy an analogue adventure! This is the perfect tale to help students reflect on the positive aspects of the transition away from screens and appreciate the opportunity to enjoy some hands-on learning and experiences. A follow-up discussion that encourages students to think about the things that you can’t do online, or that aren’t as good online, will help students focus on the benefits of moving out from behind the screen.

 

The titles in this collection are all wonderful celebrations of a post-lockdown world, perfect for reinforcing positive emotions and associations and supporting students as they transition back into face-to-face learning and social situations. Come rain or shine, picture books provide uniquely accessible springboards to broach wider conversation topics, and all of the books in this collection are rich sources of writing and discussion prompts to encourage students to make connections with each other and their own lives and experiences.

Join me again next time, when we’ll decking the shelves with boughs of books, getting excited for the festive season and looking ahead to a brand-new year.

The future’s looking bright.

 

 

About the Author

Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for eight years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.

 

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Ten Frightfully Good Activities For The Spooky Season

Various Halloween themed craft supplies

Halloween is such a fun time of year for spooky crafts and activities, with plenty of opportunities to bring out children’s creativity and imagination. From dressing up in costumes and decorating the classroom or home to scavenger hunts, and arts and crafts, there’s something for everyone to have a wickedly good time! Read on for some quick, easy and festive Halloween projects that will have you howling!

 

Paper Bag Monsters

Spooky bag monster craft project
Paper bag monsters are a versatile craft experience for children to let their imaginations run wild! These plain bags can be decorated in whatever wacky characters come to mind, with children freely exploring the open-ended materials offered and choosing to use them in their own wonderful ways. Add language and storytelling to the experience by creating storylines with their characters or find a cosy spot for children to engage in spooky monster puppet play when their paper bag creations are dry.

 

Featured products:
Paper Bags 
Dot Markers 
Jumbo Creations Box 
Paper Shapes 

 

Ghost Pencil Toppers
frightful ghosts pencil toppers craft project
Add some spooky excitement to drawing and writing with these quick and easy paper pencil toppers. Simply draw a ghost character onto thick paper or cardboard and cut the shape out, punch two holes in the ghost and gently thread the pencil or pen through the holes and abracadabra, your adorably spooky pencil toppers are ready for action.

 

Featured products:
White Cover Paper 
Coloured Pencils 

 

 

Spooky Book Placeholder
Spooky Book Placeholder
Made from only a few simple paper folds and embellishments, this is one cute creature that’s batty about storytime! Grab yourself a square piece of black paper and follow the folding sequence pictured below. Add some little wings, fangs and joggle eyes, and this adorable spooky book placeholder is ready to join in the reading. Let your imaginations run wild and fold all sorts of fun creatures with a spooky twist – bats, pumpkins, cats, frogs, owls, ghosts and more!

 

Featured products:
Matt Paper Squares 
Gloss Paper Squares 

 

Storytelling Pop Sticks
Storytelling Popsticks
Storytelling is an activity rich in language and communication! It’s a time for children to hone their concentration and listening skills, explore feelings and emotions, share their own experiences and learn from others in an interchange of knowledge. Stories can explore aspects of STEM, problem solving, memory recall and provide a place where children can freely express their thoughts and imaginings. We love storytelling!

These adorable props provide visual prompts for children and educators to tell a story. Draw some story characters on thick paper or cardboard, colour them in, cut them out and stick them onto pop sticks (for extra durability, the drawings can be laminated before they’re added to the pop sticks). Follow the characters from a favourite storybook or create your own for all sorts of imaginative tales. Once upon a time….

 

Featured products;
Pop Sticks 
Coloured Pop Sticks 
Coloured Pencils  
Coloured Jumbo Pencils 

 

Spider Tic Tac Toe
Spider Tic Tac Toe drawn in chalk on slate
Also called Noughts & Crosses, Tic Tac Toe is a fun and simple game for young children to build maths skills, including counting, predictability, problem solving and special awareness. Taking turns to lay their pieces on the board, whoever gets three in a row, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, is the winner! This is a traditional game that can be made up with all sorts of odds and ends – to make the game board, use paper and markers or a hard, flat surface and chalk or sticks. To make the playing pieces, simply find four of something that’s different from the other player’s pieces. We’ve made spooky bottle top spiders in two different colours, but you could use stones, shells, wood slices, counters etc.

 

Featured products:
Bottle Tops 
Pipe Cleaners 

 

Loose Parts Dough Creatures
Loose Parts Spooky Dough Creatures
With loose parts play, anything can happen! Children can move loose parts freely,  adapting and turning them into anything their imagination desires. A selection of open-ended loose parts makes a wonderfully inspiring invitation for children to explore, experiment, inquire and invent, and with the addition of dough or modelling clay, children are sure to make some fantastical creations!
To make a treasured keepsake that will last, switch the dough or modelling clay for air-dry clay, which will harden beautifully in a day or so, ready to adorn the classroom or live on at home.

 

Featured products:
Modelling Clay Kit 
Creatistics Dough Kit 
Creatistics Dough Set 
Craft Essentials Kit 

 

Happy Halloween Bunting
Happy Halloween bunting
Adorable FREE printable Happy Halloween bunting!

These sweet and spooky characters are sure to bring festive cheer to the learning environment – whether it’s the classroom, after school setting, home learning or weekend fun – the finishing touch to any Halloween party is here. Simply print out as many copies of the bunting as you desire, snip out the shapes, follow the hole punch guide and string up your spooky triangle bunting.
No need to worry about waste either. Paper bunting can be saved and reused next year, snipped up for spooky collage art, popped into the recycling or even shredded and added to the compost to make nutritious soil to grow yourself a real pumpkin!

 

Featured products:
Jute Hemp Twine 
White Cardboard 
Happy Halloween Bunting  FREE PDF Download 

 

Outdoor Story Stones

Outdoor Story Stones
Combine storytelling with the wonder of nature with these adorable story stones. Made from a mix of natural stone and resin, they’re built to last the rigours of play outside, allowing outdoor nature play to guide imaginative storytelling. The sights, sounds and textures of the great outdoors all make wonderful prompts for scenes where anything can take place. Story stones can also be made by adding simple illustrations to stones or small wooden branch cuts.

 

Featured products:
Story Stones – Fairy Tales 
Story Stones – Outer Space 
Story Stones – Under the Sea 

 

Batty Paper Crafts

frightful bat paper craft project with google eyes and gluesticksPaper arts and crafts are fantastic for children learning about colours and shapes. Snipping paper is also a fun way to work on scissor skills. Joggle eyes will help bring children’s creations to life and may even inspire some spooky storytelling! The paper shape pictures can decorate the classroom or be taken home as gifts to share the excitement of the spooky season.
This activity can also be adapted for different age groups to make sure everyone’s safe. Children confident with scissors may like to snip their own shapes out, where younger ones might benefit from a selection of pre-cut shapes to choose from.

 

Featured products;
Coloured Paper 
Joggle Eyes 

 

Spooky Fairground Bowling

Spooky Fairground Bowling craft project using cardboard rolls Fairground bowling games are a timeless tradition for all good parties, and this sweet, spooky version is a hoot. Add some wacky faces to sturdy cardboard rolls and take turns knocking them down with any ball you have handy. These ghosty characters look great with plain white rolls or decorated with paint, markers, coloured paper and all sorts of embellishments for endless design options. For older children, numbers can be added for scoring up the total points knocked over for fun maths practice.

 

Featured products:
Cardboard Tubes 
Craft Rolls 

 

*All these activities can be modified and adapted to suit different age groups, taking away small parts for children under 3 years of age and replacing them with larger safe parts. Where scissors are used, educators may use adequate supervision to suit the needs of the children or offer pre-cut shapes.

 

What are your favourite spooky crafts and activities to celebrate Halloween?

 

 

About the Author
Penny Groen is an Early Childhood Teacher who has been working in Early Childhood Education and Care settings around Sydney for 17 years. She has a passion for working in meaningful partnerships with families and communities, providing a responsive and engaging curriculum where everyone feels welcome to contribute. You can see Penny’s interest in the natural world with all the weird and wonderful experiments growing both inside and outside the classroom. Penny’s also known for equipping children with the tools to explore their interests and celebrate the discoveries each day brings.

 

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Crafts To Inspire Christmas Creativity

Christmas Craft Resources flatlay

Christmas is such a special time of year, and no doubt in recent times it has become an even more important holiday where families can bond and celebrate. Inspiring joy and inviting groups of students to create festive crafts brings about warmth and connection. The act of making can have such a positive effect on our mental health, so inviting children and adults alike to break out the felt, paper and a pom pom or two will ignite the Christmas spirit as we roll into the festive season.

 

Personalised Christmas Bags

Christmas canvas bag decorated with Christmas baubles
Who doesn’t love a unique and fun reusable shopping bag nowadays, especially since the removal of single-use plastic. There are so many possibilities with a calico shopping bag, as previously seen with the block print stamps. Students will enjoy coming up with festive designs such as reindeers, baubles, Christmas trees and Santa on his sleigh, making this project an individual experience.

Christmas canvas bag decorated with Christmas tree

Once they have decided on their design, students can either cut felt shapes freehand or create paper patterns to pin to the fabric. Students will have fun arranging their felt pieces onto the calico bag before gluing them down. Giving students the option of adding embellishments like buttons, ribbons, pom poms and sequins to their textile arrangement adds a lovely three-dimensional texture to their final composition. Certainly a must-have to stand out from the crowd when Christmas shopping.

 

Featured Products:

Calico Shopping Bag – Pack of 10
Christmas Felt- Pack of 50

 

 

Simple Mosaicking

Christmas Tree and baubles
When thinking about the art of mosaicking, I know sometimes the process can be quite daunting. Especially the idea of using tile adhesive and grout with students. However, these resin mosaic tiles are fantastic as they can be used on all types of surfaces, can be cut with scissors if necessary and can be adhered with craft glue or pushed into mediums like Magiclay. Students can adorn papier-mache shapes such as baubles or cones since the process is not too complex. They can explore patterns when making Christmas coasters and photo frames, and for young children it will develop their fine motor skills as they pick up each little mosaic square. These mosaic tiles shimmer so brightly in the light that they are sure to spark the imagination of all who encounter them.

 

Featured Products:

Mosaic Tiles Christmas Colours
Square Wooden Coasters- Pack of 20

Paper Mache Cones – Pack of 6
Christmas Paper Mache Balls with Gold String

Christmas Pom Poms – Pack of 300

 

 

Fun and Easy Shrink Film

Shrink Film Christmas craft ornaments
This Christmas project certainly brings back a fond memory from my childhood where I made shrinky dinks out of chip packets. The process has certainly come a long way since then with much sophistication. Your students will be absolutely fascinated with this process and will be glued to the oven door as they watch their decorations bend and contort before laying flat.
These Christmas Shrink Film Decorations have lovely patterns and designs where students can use permanent markers or pencils to add colour. I personally like pencils as they enable students to explore ombres and blending, which looks striking when shrunk to a miniature size. Paired with leather thronging for a necklace or placed on a metal key ring, they become a brilliant present or keepsake.

 

Featured Product:

Christmas Shrink Film Decorations- Pack of 12

 

 

Christmas Stamping

Christmas wooden block stamps
Who doesn’t love a stamp, especially when it is adorned with an iconic Christmas object! Stamps are so versatile for this time of year and can be applied to a wide variety of materials. Pair them with acrylic paint, block ink, embossing fluid or ink pads, the medium and colours that can be used are endless and expose students to the concept of repetition. Whether stamping on fabric or paper, the final print can be used to create many different Christmas-inspired delights.

Christmas Craft Cards and pom poms on grass background

These include Christmas cards where prints can be layered on top of paper, fabrics and hessian. Santa portraits can be drawn inside wreath prints and stamps can be repeated over the surface of a card. A lovely way to add colour to your prints is with watercolours or pencils; this not only enhances the print but also allows students to explore different colour combinations. This type of project is always a favourite as people of all ages enjoy giving cards to their loved ones.

Christmas craft brooches on grass background

If Christmas cards are not your thing, stamps can also be pushed into clay to leave an impression on its surface. Whether you use air-dried clay or earthenware, these lovely pieces can be turned into pendants and brooches by adding holes or pin backs. Once dried or fired, you can have so much fun adding colour to these stamp designs and, when complete, a spot of gloss really brings them to life. Students will really treasure these as well as delight in giving them to special people in their lives.

Christmas canvas reindeer block print bag

 

If fabric is more your cup of tea, then these stamps are just delightful. Using fabric paint and a roller, they can be used to create repetitive designs onto T-shirts and calico shopping bags. Students will love coming up with their own compositions with the different stamps and can play with pattern when choosing colours.

 

Featured Products:

Christmas Block Print Stamps- Set of 6

Christmas Pom Poms – Pack of 300

Creatistics Air Dry Ceramic Clay

Calico Shopping bag- Pack of 10

 

 

Bling up Your Favourite Artwork

Christmas Glitter Frames on
A framed artwork from a young artist would have to be the most special Christmas gift a child can give you. Whether it is a pencil drawing, a watercolour painting or a printout of a digital piece, these glitter photo frames are just fabulous. Imagine combining your students’ artwork with a snow globe. Students will love placing their work on one side and then filling the other side up with water to give their masterpiece a touch of sparkle. Students can make artwork specifically to the size of these frames or artwork can be photographed and resized digitally before being printed out. Who doesn’t love a little glitter in their life?

 

Featured Products:

Glitter Liquid Photo Frame – Pack of 10

Christmas Pom Poms – Pack of 300

 

 

Cute as a Button Reindeers

Christmas craft ornaments sitting on Christmas paper
Can you name all the reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh? These reindeer ornaments are just the cutest and I know your students will think so too. Their most obvious use is to create a reindeer face, whether it be with markers, pencils or watercolours, and it is then placed inside and covered with the glass cabochon. Another alternative to creating the reindeer would be to place a pattern piece of paper under the cabochon and then add eyes and a nose to the surface of the glass with craft materials. Either way, these reindeers can then become pendants or ornaments where they can be further personalised when adding colours and embellishments to the wooden backing.
There will always be that student who will think outside the box and do something a little bit different. Who said it had to be a reindeer? I certainly agree. You can also fill these pendants with small paintings of Christmas icons and adorn your backing to match. The creativity is endless.

 

Featured Product:

Wooden Reindeer Ornaments- Pack of 10

 

 

Versatile Paper

Tissue paper Christmas bauble with festive background
Ah, don’t you just love the smell of paper during the festive season! It is the aroma of a million ideas and possibilities for an abundance of folded, cut and collaged crafts. Whether it be patterned paper or tissue paper, they are equally fun and useful, so it is fantastic when they come in a single handy pack. From origami folded stars to Christmas cards and decoupage Christmas baubles, what is your favourite way to use paper during the festive season?

Christmas Tree and pom poms on grass background
I particularly love to show students how to fold and roll paper into different shapes that can then be used on three-dimensional forms. A cone is the perfect beginning of a Christmas tree where paper can be applied in different ways to create interesting forms. Paper can be fringed or rolled into little cones and layered all the way up to form the tree. I always tell my students that paper is so versatile and that with a little snip and a twist it can become something amazing!

 

Featured Products:

Christmas Paper & Tissue Pack of 300

Christmas Papier Mache Balls Pack of 10
Paper Mache Cones – Pack of 6

 

This year, I hope Christmas brings an extra bit of magic and joy to us all. I hope that Christmas projects and crafts can be enjoyed and used to highlight how special the festive season is to families, friends and communities. I hope that the act of creating and giving can bring us together to regain that feeling of pure happiness that we experience when exploring and expressing ourselves creatively.

 

 

About the Author
Olivia is a specialist Visual Art Teacher in an ELC, primary and secondary school setting. She has a broad breadth of experience with inquiry learning and is an IBO qualified educator. Olivia particularly enjoys developing Visual Art units around STEAM which include electronics, technology, and science concepts. Follow Olivia on Instagram in her quest to inspire creativity @creativemindsinbloom.

 

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