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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.

And now, as I don my sunnies and floppy hat, this is the perfect moment to remind you that, for a limited time, you can make hay while the sun shines and stock up on these books – or any other resources for your classroom – using our Brighter Times discount. What a bright idea!

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

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.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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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Picture Books For Unsettling Times

MTA Book Blog August Picture Books

Welcome back to the MTA Book Blog, this month coming to you from my lockdown book cave here in Sydney.

If you haven’t had chance yet, do check out the previous book blog post, Telling the Story of Lockdown, posted back in June. At the time, I could never have guessed that we were only days away from a new and challenging chapter of Australia and New Zealand’s own pandemic story.

The events of the past 18 months have certainly highlighted the importance of being able to cope with unexpected change and challenges, so, for this post, I have selected five gorgeous picture books that feature characters who are experiencing disruption in all shapes and sizes. From the inconvenient and frustrating to the utterly life-changing, these stories span the spectrum of sources of disruption and challenge in a child’s life and, crucially, offer hope through their various outcomes.

So, relax your shoulders, unclench your jaw, put the kettle on and settle down with me to discover these perfect picture books for unsettling times.

 

‘We’re Stuck’ by Sue DeGennaro We're Stuck book & quote banner

Let’s start by getting stuck into the adorable ‘We’re Stuck’ by Australian author/illustrator, Sue deGennaro. When the residents of Building 24 shuffle into their lift one morning, they are all far too preoccupied with their own busyness to even notice one another. But, when the lift suddenly breaks down, with a dismayed birthday boy trapped inside, the lift’s occupants soon shift their focus from their own needs to each other’s.

A sweet and heart-warming tale of resilience, adaptability and community, students will certainly be able to relate to the themes addressed in ‘We’re Stuck’. A follow-up discussion that invites students to share their own experiences of being stuck in place and having to put their plans on hold will create a meaningful text-to-real-world connection and encourage them to reflect on the importance of recognising that some of life’s unsettling challenges are merely a moment in time.

 

‘Norton and the Bear’ by Gabriel EvansNorton and the Bear book and quote banner

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Or is it just annoying? This is the question at the heart of the delightfully charming ‘Norton and the Bear’ by Aussie author/illustrator Gabriel Evans. Norton prides himself on his unique dress sense, so when the relentlessly complimentary Bear insists on copying Norton’s outfit at every turn it is simply unbearable! However, after Norton loses his temper with the Bear and insists that he stop copying him, the Bear turns up with a new accessory that Norton really, REALLY likes…

Between the ages of 3 and 5 is when children begin to form a sense of self, developing their identity and individuality. ‘Norton and the Bear’ perfectly illustrates how challenges to our identity can loom large, especially for young children for whom the sense of self is still relatively fragile. Whether you identify more with the frustrated Norton or the endearingly earnest Bear, I guarantee that you and your students will instantly fall in love with this story and find comfort in the knowledge that, unsettling though it may be, imitation is almost always a form of flattery!

 

‘Florette’ by Anna WalkerFlorette book and quote banner

Yet another stunning picture book from an Australian author/illustrator extraordinaire, ‘Florette’ by Anna Walker introduces us to Mae, whose life has been uprooted by her family’s decision to move to the city. Mae misses her friends, she misses her old life and, most of all, she misses her garden. However, when she ventures further into her new environment, Mae finds something that plants the seed for a different type of garden, and some new friends along with it.

Moving house is an immensely unsettling and disruptive event that many of your students will likely be able to relate to. Through Walker’s skilful visual storytelling, ‘Florette’ quietly celebrates children’s emotional resilience in adapting to environmental change and shows us that, ultimately, home is not a place, but a feeling, and one which we can carry with us and recreate wherever we go.

 

‘The Rabbit Listened’ by Cori DoerrfeldThe Rabbit Listened book and quote banner

Next up, we have ‘The Rabbit Listened’, and I should put in my disclaimer up front and say, I absolutely love this book. In this gentle, insightful story we meet Taylor, who is struck by a sudden loss that brings his day (literally) crashing down. Everyone around Taylor tries to coach him in how he should cope with his sadness, but it is only when they all leave and a little rabbit comes to sit and listen that Taylor finds the space to adequately process his emotions.

When someone we care about is upset, it can be a very natural response to try and impose our own coping strategies on them, and to even lose patience when they aren’t responsive to our efforts to ‘fix’ the situation. This is something that can be especially difficult for young children to understand, and ‘The Rabbit Listened’ provides the perfect framework to begin that discussion around different approaches to processing trauma, both for the one who is suffering and, importantly, for those around them.

 

‘Finn’s Feather’ by Rachel Noble and Zoey AbbottFinns Feather book and quote bannr

Tissues at the ready for this one. In the heart-wrenchingly touching ‘Finn’s Feather’ we join Finn, who, on the first day of spring, opens his front door to find a feather on his doorstep. Confident in the knowledge that the feather is a gift from his recently deceased brother, Hamish, Finn excitedly shows the feather first to his mother and then to his teacher, neither of whom seem to want to encourage Finn’s belief that the feather was sent by his brother. However, when Finn shows the feather to his best friend Lucas, he immediately matches Finn’s excitement and the two boys set about finding ways to make the feather the centrepiece of their games.

Similarly to ‘The Rabbit Listened’, the beauty of ‘Finn’s Feather’ is the way it illustrates the highly unique and personal ways in which trauma manifests, particularly in children, and demonstrates the ineffectiveness of trying to impose our own coping mechanisms or perceived acceptable patterns of behaviour on the one who is suffering. The hero of this story is certainly Finn’s best friend Lucas who, far from dismissing Finn’s belief in the provenance of the feather, simply meets him where he is and allows him to exist in the reality of his grief.

 

 

Although the collective disruption that we are all currently experiencing will not last forever, unexpected change and challenge will rear their heads regularly throughout a child’s life. Books like these are fantastic tools to help build emotional resilience and provide a safe and accessible springboard for discussion during all manner of unsettling times.

And now, as I retreat into my book fort, I leave you with these wise words from beloved children’s author, E.B White.

‘A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people – people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.’

Stay safe out there.

 

 

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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Hands-On Learning Experiences With Osmo

OSMO Coding Game and Tablet

The Osmo range features some of my favourite classroom resources for introducing coding and integrating technology across multiple key learning areas. Today I’m going to share with you the top five things I love about Osmo. Read along to find top-rated products and resources that my students and I love to use in our classroom.

 

Literacy & Numeracy Integration

Osmo has a large range of apps that cater to English and mathematics curriculum links as well as literacy and numeracy general capabilities. I began my Osmo journey with the Genius Starter Kit (ages 6-10), which allowed me to explore apps such as Osmo Words, Osmo Numbers and five other great programs. The Genius Starter Kit encourages versatile use of accessories across multiple apps and allows students to explore concepts they are developing whilst extending their understanding to new settings. Purchasing the Genius Starter Kit provided me with opportunities to explore various accessories such as the word tiles, number tiles and tangram pieces. It was as simple as unpacking the box and downloading the app!

OSMO Starter Kit and tablet on white background

The Osmo Words app has been a crowd favourite in my learning space and fantastic for promoting letter recognition, decoding and spelling rules across various age groups. Students can work alongside a computer guide or challenge their friends to a multiplayer competition. Adjusting the ability level has allowed flexible use of the product across various users and their needs. The Osmo accessories can be purchased separately and the Osmo support team can quite often generously provide replacements. No one likes missing pieces, right?

 

OSMO Word game and Tablet on carpet

 

The Osmo Math Wizard series (ages 6-8) has been recently launched, which focuses on place value and measurement concepts within the mathematics curriculum. These new additions to the Osmo range provide engaging ways to promote fluencies within these concept areas. Both programs include interactive guides, printed student workbooks, sturdy game pieces, storage solutions and game-based learning opportunities. The Osmo reflector and the interactive guide provides feedback to the child on their place value and measurement work. This app enables multiple users to create accounts which allows for the product to be used by a classroom shared audience.

 

OSMO Math Wizard Place Value game on carpet OSMO Math Wizard Measurement game on carpet

 

The Osmo range includes various other apps such as Osmo Kaleidoscope and Osmo Tangram, which assist in promoting discrete parts of the mathematics curriculum or combining the ICT General Capability and Numeracy General Capability in your play-based learning experiences.

 

Projector App

The Osmo Projector app was launched during peak COVID-19 home learning in Australia. Responding to urgent requests from educators seeking the right tool to teach in an online or remote learning environment, Osmo created this free app to use in conjunction with the Osmo base and reflector. The app allows educators to scribe on whiteboards, worksheets or manipulate objects in front of the reflector and base, and the iPad will display this in the correct orientation for viewers. When combined with online conferencing platforms such as Zoom or by using AirPlay to stream from your device to LED displays in the classroom, this provides an innovative way to use your iPad as a projector for face-to-face and virtual learning.

 

OSMO Projector app with Tablet on school desk

 

In my classroom, I AirPlay my iPad to my Macbook which is displayed on my LED TV screen. I use the Projector app to illustrate sequencing concepts such as arrows and patterns from my work station, allowing all students to view this live-action while I’m modelling a lesson to the class. A benefit to this app is that you can screen record your learning experience and upload it to online portfolios or live cast during online conferencing.

 

Coding Starter Kit

The Osmo Coding Starter Kit (ages 5-10) provides users with access to the Osmo Coding Awbie, Osmo Coding Jam and Osmo Coding Duo apps. These hands-on learning apps provide various ways to access the Digital Technologies curriculum concepts of directional sequencing, algorithms and abstraction. This kit provides fabulous introductory and intermediate learning opportunities with self-paced programs and built-in computer support guides. With a mix between structured learning tasks and free-play opportunities, the Coding Starter Kit is a go-to product of mine as a Specialist Digital Technologies teacher. Plus, if the students are begging to use them at lunch time- the resources must be fairly awesome!

 

    • OSMO Coding Jam Game and Tablet on desk in classroomOsmo Coding Awbie Game and Tablet on carpet

 

I use these resources in my Digital Technologies lessons, lunch-time coding clubs and before/after school at the students’ requests. To introduce the activities, I model and co-complete tasks with the students first and then allow them to continue to complete the programs independently. After a couple of structured lessons, my students can now access this resource as an independent activity as a fast-finisher task.

 

Osmo Pizza Co.

The Osmo Pizza Co. Game is easily my personal favourite game to play using the Osmo base and reflector. Have you ever watched a child play a game where you are itching to move them aside so that you can have a go? You will feel that way with this game. The premise of the game is to serve customers in a pizza shop by taking orders then preparing and presenting pizzas to the customers. Additional curriculum links can be made to financial mathematics as the user is also responsible for billing the customers at the end of their visit. As the timer counts down and the customer lines grow longer, you’ll find your competitive side shines as you succeed as a virtual small business pizza shop owner.

OSMO Pizza Co Game and tablet on white background

 

Storage

Storage! The thing that makes almost every educator’s heart sing. Osmo considers their storage to make it easy for students and teachers alike to grab-and-go with their products. Every accessory and starter kit comes in durable storage solutions that allow every piece to have its own home. As someone who owns various Osmo kits, I organise the storage containers into a large plastic container so students know exactly how to access the resources when needed. The items stack together neatly and come with clear, colour-coordinated labels which means even my youngest students can find what they’re looking for and pack them away efficiently.

 

    • OSMO open storage containers birds eye viewOsmo games and storage containers on floor

 

There you have it! My top five favourite things about the Osmo range! Osmo has made a positive difference in my classroom and has been a fantastic way to easily and efficiently integrate technology across multiple key learning areas.

Featured Products:

Osmo Genius Starter Kit

Osmo Coding Starter Kit

Osmo Pizza Co. Starter Kit

 

About the Author

Taylor is a Specialist Digital Technologies Teacher. In her five years of teaching, she has found a passion for integrating a range of technologies into her classroom and strives to share these experiences with those around her. Follow Taylor along in her teaching journey on Instagram @taylorteachestech

 

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Using Electricity As An Art Medium

Electricity Art Medium Preview

Visual art lessons have progressed over time, and art educators have pushed beyond the humble papier-mâché pig and into the realm of endless possibilities. A mixture of new mediums and technologies paired with classic favourites, a well-rounded art program can provide students with the necessary skills and tools, to not only become well-developed artists, but also critical thinkers with strong visual literacy capabilities.

There are many contemporary artists that explore the idea of light and sound as art elements and engage their audience with auditory moments and light sequences. For an artist like Haroon Mirza, electricity has become his medium of choice. I was lucky enough to experience his exhibition at ACCA Melbourne and I was particularly fascinated by the installation hanging from the ceiling which, to me, mimicked a modern-day chandelier. I stood and watched the light sequences for quite some time, and it made me think about the idea of electricity as an art medium and how I could implement it further into my primary art program.

 

Embroidery Characters with Copper Tape Circuits

Electrical Embroidery Character on Yellow backgroundLED Characters fabric embroidery on Black background

 

I initially began the investigation into this concept by exploring the use of copper tape circuits. The unit they were implemented into was one that explored characters using a variety of different provocations for idea development. The students developed many character designs using shapes, pavement cracks and ink blobs to decide on a design they would pursue further.

Their drawing was then transferred to fabric and they were placed in an embroidery hoop so that threads could be added to the final composition. The students were then shown how to create a parallel circuit using copper tape with the shape of this circuit being determined by the LED light placement in their design.

Embroidery Character Circuit building featuring child's hands, paper and copper circuit wire

They learnt how to construct a chibitronics paper battery holder for a coin cell battery that would power their circuit and they adhered chibitronic LED light stickers. When applying the stickers, the students learnt about the importance of the positive and negative sides as they related to their battery and were able to problem-solve when a sticker didn’t work or wasn’t shining brightly. The delight on each student’s face when the circuit was then placed behind their fabric was priceless.

Featured Product:
Metallic Embroidery Thread – Pack of 24

 

Google Earth Inspired Maps with a Copper Tape Circuit

Google Map Artwork Student Example 1Google Map Artwork Student Example 2

Seeing the great learning moments that were taking place when adding electricity as another art element, I implemented this notion into another unit where the circuit was viewed as more than just light. The students explored maps as not only a record of a place but also as an individual’s journey. This included places of importance to the student and it also enabled them to delve into typographical maps and cartography as provocations.
The students began by exploring places on Google Earth and they used either oil or dry pastels to represent them on cartridge paper. This process enabled each young artist to identify colour and shapes where they could enlarge elements of the map on their iPads with ease.

Student working on Map Overlay art Example, featuring student's arms, pen, paper & desk

An acetate overlay was added to the artwork to represent the topographical component of a map. The acetate enabled the colour map underneath to be seen clearly whilst building patterns and layers to the artwork.
The final element added was the circuit. These were intended to represent the idea of a pathway or journey. These copper tape circuits were more complex than the characters as the artworks were larger, more angles and turns were made, and more lights were used. We soon realised that the connections needed to be firmly stuck together for each light on the circuit to shine brightly. A wonderful moment for them to problem-solve. The students really enjoyed adding the LED light component to their artwork, as it enabled them to represent the idea of mapping and journeys on their work whilst giving them the opportunity to learn about the mechanics of a circuit.

Featured Products:
Cartridge Paper 125gsm A2 – Pack of 500
Soft Pastels Portrait – Pack of 24
Oil Pastels Large – Pack of 12

 

Soft Sculpture Characters with E-Textiles Circuits

Felted Character Art Example 1Felted Character Art Example

After exploring copper tape circuits, I wanted to find another way to add light to artworks that could be more organic in its shape rather than being determined by the copper tapes form. This is what led me to e-textiles.

Again in a unit based around characters, the students followed the same brainstorming and designing process, but this time created their characters out of felt. They then needed to determine where their lights would go and were shown how to create parallel circuits with conductive thread that was sewn into the felt. This time, rather than a paper they used a LilyPad battery holder with a switch that was paired with the LilyPad LEDs. They had to make sure that the positive and negative terminals matched for their circuit to be a success.

Etextiles Circuit Example 2Etextiles Circuit Example 1

Students found very creative places to put their lights within their character designs and we had glowing bow ties, sparkling cheeks and shining crowns.

Felted Character Example 4

They were also very innovative when determining ways to cover the battery holder with felt flaps and disguising their stitches with 3D paint.

Felted Character Art Example, battery flap 2Felted Character Art Example, battery flap 1

 

When reflecting on the process of this soft sculpture character, the students identified the LED light circuit as one of the most successful parts of their work. Not only did the process enable them to develop an understanding of circuitry but it also enhanced their sewing skills as well as enabling them to use light as a creative component of their design.

Featured Products:
Felt Sheets 10 Colours 20 x 30cm – Pack of 50
Kids PVA School Glue – 1 Litre
Conductive Thread – 23m
Colour Slix 3D Paint – Pack of 8

 

I believe I have only just scratched the surface when it comes to electricity as an art medium where I could be inspired further by artist Haroon Mirza. This could include exploring the idea of light sequencing and programming within artworks that could extend the creative possibilities further for students. Giving them greater control over how the light components of their pieces are viewed by their audience and giving them the opportunity to develop their skills with programming as well as circuitry. The possibilities are endless.

 

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.

 

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Exploring Screen-Free Robotics With KUBO

Kubo Robotics Birds eye view on carpet

Finding the right Digital Technologies resources for your classroom can be tricky, especially when there are so many to choose from. This blog post is going to put a special spotlight on one resource that may help to support your curriculum and engage your young learners. Let me help you take the guesswork out of selecting a robotic resource to support your early years classroom!

Firstly, let’s think about the curriculum. The Australian Curriculum Achievement Standard for Digital Technologies in the Foundation-Year 2 band  states, ‘Students design solutions to simple problems using a sequence of steps and decisions.’ Digging deeper, the Processes and Production Skills Content Descriptors encourage students to ‘Follow, describe and represent a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems (ACTDIP004)’.

Directional sequencing is an important step towards more abstract coding and programming that develops in the higher bands of the Digital Technologies curriculum. The concept of directional sequencing can quite easily be coupled with the Mathematics discipline and the Numeracy General Capabilities. Finding meaningful ways to integrate approaches to learning is a key indicator of working smarter, not harder. But how can we make this meaningful and relevant in an everyday classroom?

Introducing Kubo!

Kubo Robotics Kit on Floor Birds Eye View

 

Kubo is not only a fantastic support for directional sequencing, but it can also be used to extend basic sequencing skills to include iteration. Plus, he’s super cute. Kubo uses unique technology, puzzle-like TagTiles® and colour activity maps to provide playful access to the Digital Technologies curriculum and engaging activities for students.

In my specialist Digital Technologies lessons, I use a range of digital and unplugged resources to approach the concept of sequencing. Providing a range of activities builds comfortability in the discrete skills and capabilities we intend to pass on to students. Kubo is quickly becoming a crowd-favourite activity!

In particular, the ability to record and play back sequences of code has maintained high engagement in our lessons. The activity shown below illustrates a sample line of code that has been created and recorded by the robot. It’s as simple as building the line of code, placing the ‘record’ TagTiles® at the beginning and end and allowing Kubo to roll over the top to memorise the code. Then, simply move your Kubo onto the mat and discover the successes of the sequence. This activity has flexible differentiation, where students can begin with simple lines of code and then continue to extend as their skillset increases to lengthen the code or to include iterations.

 

Kubo Robotics Tagtiles birds eye view

 

A new rotational activity that I’ve been incorporating with my Year 2 classes is called ‘Kubo Challenges’. This includes students using challenge task cards to sequence their Kubo robots to ‘collect’ various items on the town map or reach various alpha-numeric grid references. Students use their iPads and digital portfolios to take video evidence of them completing each challenge task card. This is increasing student ICT General Capabilities and providing an easy way for myself to flick through the various work samples of a large number of students within a cohort. Additionally, publishing this evidence to a digital portfolio provides students with a platform to reflect and build on previous learning experiences.

Incorporating the alpha-numeric grid referencing is also a great way to add value to the lesson by touching on the Numeracy General Capability. Students can refine their understanding of location and transformation and activate prior knowledge of concepts within the Mathematics curriculum. Click here to download a free copy of the challenge cards I use.

 

Kubo Challenge Birds Eye ViewKubo Challenge -side on view

 

I like to partner students up for these Kubo Challenges to encourage teamwork, peer support and resilience. This is an enjoyable rotation for the students to participate in and, better yet, it’s super simple and resourceful to set up each lesson. After investing in a few ‘training lessons’ for the students to understand the procedures, techniques and expected behaviours, this rotational activity now simply runs itself.

Inside the Kubo product box you will receive a range of TagTiles®, Micro-USB charging cord, easy-to-store coloured activity map and the Kubo robotic device. The Micro-USB attachment makes storage while charging very simple and compact. Kubo also have a YouTube channel  with plenty of tutorials for setting up, implementing and extending on coding concepts.

 

Kubo Robotics inside box content

 

Robotics resources may be difficult for schools to fund and in any sense, the robotics need to be respected by all users. A few rules I have my students practise when using the Kubo are:

    • Hold the Kubo with two hands (one on top, one underneath).
    • Walk, don’t run! You might knock over, drop or step on a robot.
    • Do not push and pull the Kubo like a toy car.
    • Always count and place the TagTiles® back in the container neatly.
    • Sharing is caring.
    • Always charge the robot when finished.

Having rules in place for the use of robotics in the classroom will also boost student ownership of the learning experience. Students will develop a respect and appreciation for the resources they are accessing and will show a higher level of focus on the activity in front of them.

Selecting the right robotic device for your classroom can be overwhelming. I recommend checking out the Kubo information and videos available on the MTA website  if you’re interested in giving Kubo a go! Finding resources that support meaningful engagement within the field of Digital Technologies is key for the effective implementation of the curriculum. Find what works for your classroom and I challenge you to find further cross-curricular links you can make with the technology you have. I’m confident you’ll find the best way that works for you, allowing you to share the passion you have for your lessons with your students.

Featured Product

Kubo Coding Core Kit

 

 

About the Author

Taylor is a Specialist Digital Technologies Teacher in a primary school setting. In her five years of teaching, she has found a passion for integrating a range of technologies into her classroom and strives to share these experiences with those around her. Follow Taylor along in her teaching journey on Instagram @taylorteachestech

 

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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.

 

Teacher Planner:

My Modern Teaching Aids Teacher Planner is the most essential and most used resource each year that keeps me organised. I use the Teacher Planner to keep track of important dates, meetings, notes and reminders.

021 Teacher Planner Front with Pastel Highlighters on desks

Some things I love about this planner are;

    • Whole-term overview pages
    • Plastic zip pockets
    • Admin section – includes passwords, professional learning recording pages, expenses page, student assessment tracker and lots of blank pages for notes
    • Weekly tip/advice

Whole-Term Overview Pages:
These pages allow me to view the whole term at a quick glance, add in key dates, events and assessments, and to then ensure I am organised for the entirety of the year.

Plastic Zip Lock Pockets & Pouch:
There are two zip-lock pockets along with another open plastic pouch. The zip-lock pockets are great for securely storing those little things that always seem to go missing. There is one at the start of the planner and one at the back. The one at the back is next to the expenses page which I use to store all my receipts for tax time.

Admin Section:
This section provides teachers with various pages to help organise and store classroom information in the one place. My favourite is the Professional Learning section where teachers can record the various PD they take part in over the year. The expenses pages help teachers track and record expenses over the year for tax purposes and budgets. I love the Assessment Tracker as I can easily keep track of student assessments as well as general student organisation such as completed tasks and the returning of notices.

Weekly Tip/ Advice/ Lesson Idea:
On every weekly page within the Teacher Planner it provides teachers with a tip, piece of advice, or a lesson idea for the classroom. There are so many great tips throughout the year that include maths games, sequencing activities and activities to promote a positive growth mindset.

2021 Teacher Planner Open Spread with Pastel Highlighters

 

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 device, 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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Loose Parts: An Invitation To Play

Loose parts activity on table BIV

‘Open-ended’, ‘sustainable’, ‘creativity’ and ‘infinite possibilities’ are just some of the words that come to mind when we think about loose parts in play. Loose parts are becoming increasingly popular in early childhood settings and it’s not surprising to consider why. Here at Explore & Develop Narraweena, we have looked to the principles of Reggio Emilia to inspire and guide some of our practices. Their use of loose parts provides many wonderful ideas on how to incorporate them into the learning environment and thus our journey into the use of loose parts began.

“The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.”

-Loris Malaguzzi, Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

Wooden bowl with jewels stones and shell with child hand square

So what exactly are loose parts? Loose parts are objects or materials that have no particular intended purpose or use. They can be used in a multitude of ways and often rely on the imagination of the individual who is using them. They are usually strategically placed in different areas of the learning environment and are often accompanied by a provocation for learning. When engaging with loose parts, children are encouraged to be creative, inventive, resourceful, innovative and imaginative. Loose parts work well for both individual and group experiences and can be explored both indoors and outdoors. It is important to consider the ways in which you store loose parts to ensure that they are inviting, organised and can be easily packed away for the next use.

Sorting trays full of various loose parts square

Our preschool rooms were some of the first to begin exploring loose parts. We began to recognise that there were a range of loose parts that could be incorporated into play spaces that particularly focused on opportunities for creative expression. Items such as shells, corks, buttons, feathers, bottle tops and leaves were placed in small divider boxes near the art area. These small parts were separated to highlight each individual resource and so that children could easily see what was on offer. The potential for creativity was evident as educators observed the children utilising the same parts to create an array of different masterpieces. This supported our philosophy that art should not necessarily have a defined end but instead be open-ended to encourage children to experiment and explore the possibilities of art. We continue to offer art experiences in this way, and over time have refined the process, at times adding provocations that provoke ideas and imagination. To support this, educators will carefully select items that support this provocation.

It is important to note that the way in which loose parts are placed can make a distinct difference to their use. Having carefully selected resources that are placed in divided or separate spaces ensures that they are visually appealing and do not overwhelm children. This can encourage the notion that each resource possesses its own unique properties and promotes a child’s respect for individual resources. They should also all have a space or place where they belong, as loose parts are designed to be assembled and pulled apart. Having a designated space allows these loose parts to be easily packed away, not only by educators, but also by the children, thus empowering them further.

Sensory play activity set up on table Square

Natural objects became a frequent feature of loose part play. These resources were not only easily accessible and sustainable, they also offered many opportunities in play. Natural loose part resources could be collected on a simple nature walk and then added to small world play, used as a point of investigation, used in art experiences or even incorporated into construction. Beyond creativity, we also then began to see these resources as a wonderful way to explore STEM concepts in play. Exploring sticks, stones, shells, leaves and pine cones encouraged children to think about size, shape, matter, volume and even patterning. This also opened up the opportunity to explore transient or ephemeral art; an art system that encourages resources to be assembled into patterns, designs, symmetry, lines or shapes and then pulled apart to create again. Children could spend time considering their creations and then piecing together a design with similar or opposing attributes. We then began to add these to construction which meant our children who love construction would be more likely to use them.

Reaching a wider audience makes a resource more valuable and something we truly believe in at our service. Loris Malaguzzi suggests that children have a hundred languages in which to explore, create and express themselves; open-ended resources such as these encourage children to do exactly that. Through construction, children could use rocks, shells, coloured stones and more to add depth, balance and imagination to their designs. All the while, these children were also using measurement, balance and one-to-one correspondence to extend and build upon mathematical concepts.

Giant Shiny Pebbles In Child's Hands Square

Blocks and jewels standing on mirrored surface square

“A ‘loose-parts’ toy, as Nicholson defined it, is open-ended; children may use it in many ways and combine it with other loose parts through imagination and creativity . . . Nature, which excites all the senses, remains the richest source of loose parts.”

Richard Louv

Pine cones and tree bark in wooden tray with open book display ocean behind square

seashells in wooden tray

While the benefits of loose parts indoors became evident for art, then construction and other forms of creativity, the outdoors soon became a place where loose parts could also be incorporated. When looking to add loose parts items to the outdoors we looked to collaborate with our families and bring along carefully selected items for play.

 

natural loose parts in children's hands Square

 

We invited our families and educators to source pipes, tyres, wood and old pots and pans. This again highlighted the sustainable benefit of using old parts which may otherwise end up in landfill. There were many areas of the outdoor space that these could be added to and they became carefully placed around the yard. The sandpit became a hive of activity with pipes and sieves being added. This challenged the children’s thinking and we observed them being used to fill, tip pour and dig.

 

In other areas of the outdoor space we saw loose parts incorporated into play. Pipes became binoculars, tunnels or robot arms. Pieces of material turned into pirate ship sales, cubby houses, forts and butterfly wings. Pots and pans turned into an entire instrumental band with drums and cymbals, or were added to the mud kitchen for hours of muddy exploration. Loose parts became permanent structures in our outdoor garden as we added old pots and combined pieces of wood to create new garden beds. It was now evident that loose parts were here to stay and they continue to feature in all areas of our learning spaces, used and reused for different experiences.

Pots and pans hanging from wooden frame in garden

If you are beginning your journey into loose parts, you will not look back. One word of advice would be to introduce them slowly and carefully. Find a space for each new item before including another and have the children become familiar with using them. Before long, you will realise the endless potential of loose parts and observe the many ways they can be used over and over again to create open-ended, imaginative play spaces.

 

How do you explore loose parts in your learning environment? We’d love to hear from you!

 

About the Author:

Mel Ishkhanian has over 15 years experience in the early childhood industry and is currently employed at Explore & Develop Narraweena. She has a bachelor degree in Early Childhood education and engages in frequent professional development in order to keep up to date with current theory and research within the industry. As Educational Leader of the service she applies current research into practice and strives to connect the service to both the local and wider communities. With a passion for treating children as capable and confident beings, she applies theories of play, the 8 ways of Learning Pedagogy and is also influenced by the Reggio Emilia principles. Check out regular social posts by Mel @explore&developnarraweena.

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Sphero Bolt And SPRK+ In The Classroom

Sphero Shape Activity birds eye view featuring Sphero Bolt & SPRK robotics and 2 students on carpet.

The way we engage our students and support their learning continues to evolve as we move further into the 21st century. There are now many technological tools, resources and applications that can enhance our students’ learning when used to redefine their learning experiences.

The Sphero robot is one such tool that has positively enhanced students’ learning. The amazingly versatile Sphero robot will engage and empower your students with hands-on learning. A tennis ball-sized robot connected via Bluetooth to a mobile device, the Sphero can be used to transform teaching and learning across various curriculum areas. In this blog post, we will look at the range of Sphero products on the market and their varying capabilities and prices.

Sphero SPRK+
The Sphero SPRK+ can roll at a speed of up to 7km/h in any direction. It can also spin, flip and change colour. Using a range of apps, students can code the Sphero to direct its movement.

Sphero Spark

 

Sphero BOLT
The Sphero BOLT is the latest product in the Sphero range and includes all the features of the SPRK+ along with the addition of a striking LED matrix and advanced sensors to track speed, acceleration and directions. The Sphero BOLT also features infrared communication, allowing it to “talk” to other BOLTs.

Sphero Bolt on white background

 

Creatively designed lessons incorporating Spheros can develop many of the skills we want for our learners. Students will be designing and creating code to direct the Sphero while collaborating, problem-solving, testing and thinking critically and creatively, all fundamental characteristics of 21st-century learners.

 

Lesson Ideas:

Sphero Mini Golf

Sphero golf hole with tablet and number 1

Students develop their coding skills by creating and playing a game of Sphero Mini Golf.

Materials:

    • Spheros (one per group)
    • Masking tape or chalk
    • Kinder squares and circles
    • Mini Golf template (free Sphero Mini Golf  PDF download)

 

  •  Sphero golf hole with 2 students and number 3

Procedure:

    • Create nine mini-golf holes around the classroom. Using masking tape, chalk or other materials, clearly mark the outline of each hole and use a kinder circle to number each hole.
    • Students code the Sphero in the Sphero Edu App to get it to make its way to the hole (coloured circle).
    • Students record how many lines of code it took for them to code the Sphero to each hole on the scoring sheet.

 

Angles and Shapes

Sphero Angles and Shapes birds eye view

Students apply their knowledge and understanding of shapes and angles by creating them with the Sphero.

Materials:

 

Sphero Angles and Shapes activity. Track on floor students holding tabletSphero Angles and Shapes activity. Track on floor.

Procedure:

    • Design a 2D shape that includes three different types of angles on planning sheet.
    • Create the shape on the classroom floor using masking tape or chalk and a protractor.
    • Code the Sphero in the Sphero Edu App to manoeuvre around their shape.

 

 

Chariots

Sphero Chariot activity. Sphero Robotic & Chariot created out of art & craft materials

Students create chariots using various art and craft materials to dress the Sphero.

Materials:

    • Sphero (one per group)
    • Various arts and craft materials

Sphero Chariot activity. Sphero Robotic & Chariot 2 created out of art & craft materialsSphero Chariot activity. Sphero Robotic & Chariot 3 created out of art & craft materials

 

Procedure:

    • On paper, students design a chariot for their Sphero.
    • Students create their chariot and place it on their Sphero.
    • Students code the Sphero in the Sphero EDU app to race the chariots to find a winner and to test if their creations stay assembled.

 


Sphero Swimming

Sphero swimming activity. Sphero robot tablet and bowl of water on table.

As the Sphero robot is waterproof, you can design lessons that incorporate water.

Materials:

    • Sphero
    • Tub of water or school swimming pool
    • Rubber bands

Sphero swimming activity. Sphero robot floating in water.

Procedure:

    • Place the Sphero in a tub of water or school swimming pool.
    • Have students predict what will happen.
    • Add a rubber band around the Sphero and have students predict what changes may take place in the water and then test again.
    • Explore what happens when you add multiple rubber bands to the outside of the Sphero.

 


Sphero Art

Sphero Art activity. Finished painted artwork on canvas.

Using water-based paint, the Sphero can be dipped into any colour to then create a masterpiece.

Materials:

    • Sphero
    • Water-based paint
    • Baby wipes (used for cleaning Sphero)
    • Paper
    • Walls to keep Sphero contained (I suggest using the lids of A4 or A3 paper boxes)

Sphero Art activity. Sphero robots painting canvas inside boxes. Paints and tablet on table.

Procedure:

    • Dip or cover the Sphero in paint.
    • Students code the Sphero in the Sphero EDU app or drive the Sphero over their paper to create their masterpieces.
    • Make sure you use baby wipes to clean the paint off each Sphero.

 


Integrated Learning

Sphero Integrated learning Activity. When you go to Melbourne book. Paper mache bus & Sphero Robot on table Sphero Integrated learning activity. Structure & bus made from newspapers. Pictures of Melbourne landmarks

With creative lesson design, there are many ways to integrate the Sphero in your units of work.

Connecting to our Year 3 unit looking at the history of Melbourne, the Sphero was used to integrate these curriculum areas;

    • History
    • Mathematics – 3D objects
    • Art – Design
    • Digital Technologies

Materials:

    • Sphero
    • Newspaper
    • Small boxes

Sphero Integrated learning activity. Structure & bus made from newspapers. Picture of stadium Sphero Integrated learning activity. Structure & bus made from newspapers. 2 Pictures of Melbourne landmarks

Procedure:

    • Students use newspaper to design and create iconic Melbourne buildings or landmarks.
    • Students use boxes to design and create a Melbourne tram.
    • Situate the buildings and landmarks around the classroom to represent the city.
    • Placing the Sphero inside the trams, students code the Sphero in the Sphero EDU app to manoeuvre to each building or landmark in the city.

 

Each of these activities demonstrates the versatility of using Spheros in your classroom and how they can be used creatively to support student learning. The hands-on learning experiences reinforce learned concepts while developing the key 21st-century skills of communication,  problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking. There really are limitless possibilities of how Sphero can be integrated into student learning.

 

Featured Products:

Sphero SPRK+

Sphero Bolt

 

How have you used Sphero in your classroom?

 

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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