Budgeting the Minutes

A few weeks ago I posted a quote that I have been reading over and over to motivate me in my reading goals. Part of that quote encourages me to organise and budget “the minutes and hours of the day” so that reading to the kids is included among all the other things that need to happen. It got me thinking about the ways I have tried to do that and how I could improve.

It can be really difficult to make sure that each child has some form of ‘reading’ each day. I often feel that our day is generally open for us to fill with a variety of activities, but by the time you add up all the simple tasks to be completed each day, time does get away from me. (When did ‘second breakfast’ become etched into our family schedule?)

So in an effort to make reading a daily occurrence, I have tried to follow a few self imposed guidelines. I try to say ‘yes’ when they ask me to read, I try to establish habits or routines that perpetuate reading times and I try to be creative and squeeze books into the cracks of time that appear in the day.

Years ago I heard or read of parents that say ‘yes’ every time their child asks them to read a book. I loved the idea because of the obvious message it sends to the child: You are important, and reading to you is something I love to do more than anything else. So I have tried this, because is there really anything sweeter that a child bringing a book to you and asking you to read it?

I do find it really tough. When the house is a mess, the dishes aren’t done, laundry needs to be hung out and I want to churn through my chores, but a kid wants me to read, it is very tempting to say no. But the reality is the house can be cleaned later and the dirty dishes and wet clothes aren’t going to be disappointed because I put them on hold.

Having said all that there are times when children have had to read to themselves because Mum was busy toileting a sibling or cooking dinner, and that is just fine too. It’s good for kids to read books to themselves even before they know how to read. Plus, if we have time built into our routine for stories, I can say no sometimes knowing a chance will be coming later in the day.

Creating reading routines or habits has been a real blessing in my life as a parent. It means that the kids expect a story at a certain time. Over the years the routines shift as mealtimes, nap times and betimes shift. For example, before the baby was on solids lunch time was a locked in 20 mins of stories. As I made lunch the girls would go collect a pile of stories for me to read to them as they ate. But now that I’m usually feeding the baby at lunch time it doesn’t really happen. Instead we have started having reading time “on wa-wa’s bed” before bed time. Again they expect it, they collect the books they want and it’s 20 mins or so of reading.

Another habit that has helped save me the ‘mummy guilts’ is reading before the TV gets turned on. This is especially good on the school holidays or lazy afternoons. The kids want to watch TV, and I’m not against it, but first they do some reading. I have found that they will whizz through the books, but at least they are doing it.

We have also found little ways to squeeze reading into the cracks of time that appear in the day. If we are going on a car trip for more than 30 mins I might ask if anyone wants to bring a book. For kids who don’t yet read independently a ‘look and find’ book or an audio book is ideal. A few weeks ago the big boy was in the car with nothing to read, but luckily we had a very old Melways floating around and he got stuck into that. Reading a map is still reading.

Then there are the times when reading to them helps you:

Toilet Training – While the kids are toilet training I keep a couple of favourite books on hand in the bathroom to distract them from the fact they are sitting on the toilet/potty.

Swimming Lessons – When you have to take the younger kid to swimming lessons but they can’t go in the pool – pack a couple of books. (Works for dance class, basketball or any other activity where one kid has to come and ‘watch’ their sibling.)

Travel – airports, airplanes and trains are all very exciting to young minds – for about 5 mins. Once they have pushed all available buttons and looked out the window momentarily they will get bored of this very exciting and much anticipated event. Books are a must for parental sanity.

It also helps me to keep in mind that reading one standard picture book to a child can be often be done in about 3-5 mins. I can do that – most days.

 

Florette, by Anna Walker

Anna Walker is a prolific and easily recognisable Australian illustrator. If you and your children are yet to read a book she has worked on I’d be very surprised. She does wonderful pictures and her stories really appeal to young children.

A few weeks ago we read ‘Little Cat and the Big Red Bus’ (author Jane Godwin) for the first time and my girls in particular loved it. The story is appears relatively simple (though I’m sure that is a tough thing to achieve), but Anna Walker’s images seemed to transport their little minds.

Then last week when I saw ‘Florette’ on the library shelf I knew we had to read it. We were not disappointed. At the end of our first reading, right before bedtime, one daughter asked for it again immediately. First thing the next morning we were reading it again.

The story is about a young girl, Mae, who moves away from her garden and seeks out a new one whilst surrounded by buildings. Again, it is a appears to be a simple story. I’m sure it is the pictures that my little one fell in love with. The images are totally captivating.

I also think it reaches the ‘wild’ heart of a young child: the desire to make, to build, to explore, to create and to grow things.

This is a beautiful gift for a young girl. If you loved Rosie Revere for your girls, then I think this is a great companion book.

 

 

The Very Cranky Bear, by Nick Bland

There are only a handful of things cuter than a child who can’t read, but learns to memorise a favourite story. The last few weeks have been dotted with our 2 year old giving spirited recitations of ‘The Very Cranky Bear’ in her broken English and it’s great: “In da jingle-jangle-jungle”.

So when we were at library story time and ‘The Very Cranky Bear’ got read out, AND she got to make her own Very Cranky Bear craft, it was more than just a special day. It becomes THE DAY for that child. Just like when the roller skate obsessed girl wins a prize in the Rollerama dice game.

THIS day will stay with them for weeks to come. THIS day the world smiled on them. THIS day they were outrageously happy. It brings tears to your eyes.

 

Awesome Facebook group for parents of book lovers

I love this Australian Facebook group: Your Kid’s Next Read

It is run to support parents in their attempts to ‘feed the book-devouring-kid beast’.  Spending just half an hour going through the reading lists provided and also recent comments you will get dozens of suggestions of books for your kids.

If you are still not satisfied you can create a post and other parents are more than happy to point you in the right direction.

Unbearable, Paul Jennings

It’s a pretty rare thing for me to read to or even with my eldest child, one-on-one. I mean I’ve probably only done a handful of readers with him this year because a) he never changes the books, and b) I just don’t have the time to read to someone who can read to themselves.

It was so lovely to have a chance last night to sit and read to my big boy, and I think he liked it too. We read a short story from the Paul Jennings’ set he is making his way through and I have only good things to say about it.

The story was called ‘Grandad’s Gifts’ and it was a very mild horror story about a child who moves into a new bedroom with a forbidden cupboard. I think it’s really great for the under-10 crowd. A great balance: too unrealistic to be legitimately scary, but enough suspense and a great ending to thrill.

People who grew up in the 90’s in Australia have no-doubt heard of and read Paul Jennings, or they may have unknowingly been exposed to his stories through the popular after school TV program ‘Round the Twist’. His stories have a somewhat timeless feel, especially given the supernatural themes, and are entertaining the next generation of young Aussie readers.

Pip and Posy, by Axel Scheffler

We found this series after leaning into our (mmm…okay…my) obsession with Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler books. I saw one at the library and thought it was one we hadn’t read yet. While Julia Donaldson is not a contributor to the series I’m sure all ‘Gruffalo’ fans will still love these sweet stories.

These books are very much aimed at a younger audience. My kids seemed to be able to follow them from about 2 years of age and grow out of them at around 4 years old. The stories revolve around difficult situations or emotions a preschooler would face, such as fear, toilet training, loss and sharing toys. 

As such the main characters, who are a pair of friends, Pip (a rabbit) and Posy (a mouse), seem to be preschoolers themselves. Pip and Posy like to play together with things your 3 year old probably loves to do: painting, playing babies and going to the park. During their playtime they encounter situations which enable them learn to help, forgive and apologise to their friend.

For example in one book, “The Super Scooter”, Posy feels jealous and snatches, Pip feels cross, Posy falls and gets hurt, Pip still helps his friend, Posy apologises and the friends play together again. It is a pretty simple story, but for a preschooler it is perfectly presented. I have found my kids get so engaged in the story they sometimes don’t want to face the next page, or they want to skip the ‘bad’ parts, like when the balloon pops. 

These are great to have on hand at bed time. I find we can read one in around 5 mins, the younger kids love them, and I still like reading them too, even after so many re-runs.

 

 

 

 

Books for babies

One of my lovely sisters just had her first baby and it got me thinking about what books are good give to new babies. I’m often indecisive. I want to give books that are helpful to the parent and will have the most impact on the child. But I also love to give books that will be meaningful when the child is 2 or 5 or even 8 years old.

I love the idea of a child having a book that they know a special person gave them when they were a baby and they still have it when they learn to read to themselves. It’s also a cute thing to give them a book which has a character with the child’s name so that as they grow they learn to recognise they name.

For a new baby/toddler board books are awesome. Less chance of permanent destruction, but really they are just easier for a young child to manipulate with their own chubby fingers. Luckily these days lots of great titles are now also available in board book form. We got given ‘Where is the Green Sheep?’ years ago as a hard cover and it is only just holding together, but lots of our board books are still going strong.

Another thing to think about is how the child will interact with the book. Is there a tactile element to the book, or flaps to lift or tabs to pull out? There are lots of great books designed for very young children that are more of a toy than a book. We have had a few cloth books (or soft books) that are awesome because I can send them through the washing machine when a baby spews on them. Lamaze also makes a few.

 

An obvious ‘go-to’ book for a newborn is one of the ‘That’s Not My…’ series, by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells, for a few reasons.  Firstly there are some 52 titles in the series, so the chances of being able to pick a book that ‘matches’ the child are high. If they have a pet dog you can go for “That’s Not My Puppy”, if the nursery has a farm theme you can choose one about lambs, or cows, or ponies. Actually there is probably a book to go with any theme: robots, fairies, elephants, mermaids, teddies, badgers, trucks, planes, frogs  – there’s a book that will suit. There are even Christmas ‘That’s Not My…’ books.

We have owned a few of these since our first was little and they seem to be good for multiple ages. A few years ago I was reading one, that we have had for years, to a younger child and my oldest stopped what he was doing and walked over to look at the pictures, even though he would have read that book zillions of times. For a child learning to read the sentences are repetitive and thus are perfect for practice.

Also, not only are they all board books, they are ‘touchy-feely’ books. Every page (including the cover) has a element designed to engage the child by touching or feeling a part of the picture. They might feel something fluffy or rough or bumpy or smooth. There are sometimes also shiny or glittery elements that kids love.

My next suggestion is the ‘Spot’ books, by Eric Hill. Again there are heaps of these to chose from. The classic one is ‘Where’s Spot?’ but there are heaps of other titles that follow Spot on his adventures. Sometimes he goes to the farm, or to school, or his grandparents. Other books see Spot baking, dressing up or becoming a big brother.

The best thing about lots of the Spot books is that they are ‘lift-the-flap’ books. I found that even before 12 months old kids are excited about lifting the flaps to reveal what’s underneath. Little kids must love the anticipation of seeing what’s underneath, so you can read these over and over and they will still be new and real to the child. So real in fact that when I started roaring every time we opened the door to the bear in ‘Where’s Spot?’ one of my kids became too scared to lift that flap.

Of course a lot of these books are not board books, and even the ones that are, the flaps are still very ‘tearable’. Even so, I still recommend them (just keep some sticky tape in the house). I have had Spot books save me on plane rides with a toddler. They have been an absolute staple in our house for years now.

Similar to the Spot books are books by Rod Campbell. There are a few lift the flap books, often available in board book form. His most well-known book is ‘Dear Zoo’, where children get to guess what animal is hiding under the flap. There is also a Christmas version called ‘Dear Santa’.

Other lift-the-flap books by Rod Campbell include ‘Oh Dear!’ and ‘Noisy Farm’ which are based on farm animals. There are also a few books featuring a character called Buster who has a birthday, or visits a farm etc.

Whatever you choose, a book is always a great gift idea for a child. It’s something you can share together immediately and as they grow. In fact as I type this someone is reading a birthday gift to my kids, and it’s lovely.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are my favourite pairing of author and illustrator in children’s literature. I was captivated from the first time we read ‘The Gruffalo’ to our small son.

I perhaps got a little obsessive. When I found that they had collaborated on many other children’s books I felt like I had hit the jackpot. For a few months, every time we went to the library I would scope out the ‘D’ section looking for any of their books that we hadn’t yet read. It led us to read other great books that Julia Donaldson has written, but were illustrated by other artists (especially a few by David Roberts: ‘Tyrannosaurus Drip’ and ‘Jack and the Flummflumm Tree’). We also came across the ‘Pip and Posy’ series which Axel Scheffler authorstrated, which will probably get it’s own blog post in the future.

At one point I placed an online order for about 10 Donaldson/Scheffler books (some for us, some for gifts) and I’m pretty sure I was much more excited when they arrived than any of the kids were. I still love many of their books because at heart each of us is a young kid and we love the magical world we are taken to by the rhythmic and rhyming words and engaging pictures.

But more than that many of the story lines have a subtle moral or lesson for us. They often highlight a truth about human nature, even though very few characters are actually humans.

The Gruffalo

This classic story is about a plucky mouse who evades some dangerous situations with his quick thinking. It is entertaining the first time and the 50th time your child asks you to read it.This was one of the first picture books we ever owned for our kids. We read it over and over, most nights before bed for months. Even though it doesn’t get as much of run now (because we have more books to choose from and less time to spend one on one with each kid) I’m sure I could recite it pretty well.

Room on the Broom

This is still my favourite book from Donaldson and Scheffler. It follows the tale of a clumsy witch as she generously shares her broomstick. Her generosity lands her in trouble and she needs help from those whom she once helped.

Again it is etched into my memory after hundreds of readings. I actually remember one time my son split his head open and we had to take him to Emergency, as the doctors were looking at him and deciding how best to fix him up I was reciting this book to him to calm him down. This book has one of my all time favourite lines from a kid’s book: “Buzz off, that’s my witch”.

The Gruffalo’s Child

With all of the characters from ‘The Gruffalo’ making an appearance you would think this sequel could be redundant or too similar – but that is not the case. This is a great story about listening to your parents.

 

 

The Scarecrow’s Wife

A fantastic story about two scarecrows who love each other and want to plan the perfect wedding. It is fun and funny and the leading couple are endearing and lovable. 

We had this one from the library ages ago, but we have it again and all the kids are super excited about it. Our 2 yr old is learning to ‘read’ it herself.

Stick Man

This entertaining story follows the misfortune of a stick man who is trying to get back to his family. My husband gets a little upset when he sees men/fathers in children’s literature or media being portrayed as buffoons or worse. So it is really lovely when you come across a story that shows a father desperate to be with his family.

 

The Smartest Giant in Town

The tale of George, a giant, who wants to be better but just can’t stop himself being generous and kind. He finds different ways to help those he meets who are having troubles. 

It is a sweet one that will help you talk to kids about helping the needy.

Tabby McTat

Tabby McTat is a busker’s cat who falls into a different life after losing his owner. This is a unique book with great rhymes.

 

 

Tiddler

Another great book. I really do love the way the underwater world is illustrated.

It has one sweet part that reminds me of ‘Finding Nemo’ where a message is passed from creature to creature underwater.

hamilton’s Hats

This is one book that has a very obvious purpose: to help children practice patience.

It is still really lovely to see the story unfold.

 

 

Monkey Puzzle

This is really good for younger children. The story of a child looking for its Mum is something that seems to draw in kids. It has a clever ending which little kids love to predict.

 

 

A Squash and a Squeeze

I think this is the first book Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler collaborated on. It is a funny tale of a little old woman with a problem I completely sympathise with. She learns that sometimes what you’ve got is enough – a lesson I am trying to come to terms with.

 

 

Zog

A fun book about the training dragons need to endure to be good at their ‘job’.  Zog tries his very best to be a good dragon and in the process meets an unlikely friend.

There is a sequel called ‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’ that we are yet to read.

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book

This book is not structured in the typical fashion of beginning-middle-end, instead it cleverly introduces kids to a variety of different types of books and characters they might bump into in the literary world. 

The variety in this book makes it very entertaining.

The Snail and the Whale

I really like this one. The story of an unlikely pairing who help each other, one who wants something and one who needs to be saved. It is a great book for a kid that doesn’t recognise the value of their talents and strengths.

superworm

Superworm is so versatile. he can help lots of others with their problems by ‘being’ something different.

But when Superworm gets into trouble, who will help him?

 

The Highway Rat

It is unusual for Julia Donaldson to have a ‘baddie’ as a protagonist. But the Highway Rat is certainly a ‘baddie’. He rides around taking food from travellers to feed his greed. Fortunately for everyone else the Rat meets a very clever duck.

 

 

I have found that my local library has most of these books and I’m sure yours will too. But any of these books would make an excellent gift for a child aged 2-5 – or even older.

www.juliadonaldson.co.uk

axelscheffler.com – has some great colouring PDFs

Fibonacci Zoo, by Tom Robinson

Mr 7 at our place considers himself a bit of a mathematician: we recently had a book called ‘Number Places’ that he whipped through as they had been doing that at school. So when I saw the name of this book I thought, this could be a great picture book for him. A fun way to introduce the Fibonacci sequence to a kid, perhaps.

The story pretty is pretty thin and is obvious in how it introduces the Fibonacci sequence, but I guess when teaching kids about number patterns you don’t want to make it too cryptic.

For my boy it was great. He was really interested in learning the pattern and the section at the end that helped us notice the Fibonacci sequence in the world around us, particularly in our own bodies.

I looked up the publisher Arbordale Publishing, as I hadn’t heard of them before.  The publish lots of books that have an educational element. They also had heaps of additional resources for parents and teachers. This is a little section to parents from their additional resources:

Two of the most important gifts you can give your child are the love of reading and the desire to learn. Those passions are instilled in your child long before he or she steps into a classroom. Many adults enjoy reading historical fiction novels . . . fun to read but also to learn (or remember) about historical events. Not only does Arbordale publish stories that are fun to read and that can be used as bedtime books or quiet “lap” reading books, but each story has non-fiction facts woven through the story or has some underlying educational component to sneak in “learning.” Use the “For Creative Minds” section in the book
itself and these activities to expand on your child’s interest or curiosity in the subject. They are designed to introduce a subject so you don’t need to be an expert (but you will probably look like one to your child!). Pick and choose the activities to help make learning fun!

Now we will be looking out for more of these same books. A great way to expose kids to educational concepts in a storybook form. Yay!

 

Begin Early…

Begin early in exposing children to books. The mother who fails to read to her small children does a disservice to them and a disservice to herself. It takes time, yes, much of it. It takes self-discipline. It takes organizing and budgeting the minutes and hours of the day. But it will never be a bore as you watch young minds come to know characters, expressions, and ideas. Good reading can become a love affair, far more fruitful in long term effects than many other activities in which children use their time. …

Parents, … let your children be exposed to great minds, great ideas, everlasting truth, and those things which will build and motivate for good. … Try to create within your home an atmosphere of learning and the growth which will come of it.

                                                                           – Gordon B. Hinckley, June 1985