Setting Up A Reading Nook - 5 inspiring ideas

reading quoteChildren need to be encouraged to develop a love of reading and what better way than setting up a cosy area in your home or classroom as a reading nook.

In this last blog of the “reading series” we share 5 inspiring ideas that will have children wanting to curl up with a book in no time. All these ideas are simple, inexpensive and easy to recreate in the home or classroom.

If you have missed the first two blogs of the “reading series” please click on the links below to catch up on what you have missed.

Reading Strategies to teach children 4- 9 year olds

Concepts about Print – 22 concepts that all parents and teachers need to know

Use a tent

tentA tent inspires children to be transported into an imaginary world that is separate from their daily routine. You can decorate it how you wish and it is easy to set up in any space. There are many tents for sale in shops at the moment or some creative people might find a pattern online and create their own. Fill the tent with cushions and blankets and have the children’s reading books close by.

 




Using book shelves

book shelvesUsing book display shelves is a great way of storing even the largest of book collections. It is easy for a child to see which book they want and an effective way of keeping all the books in a neat way on the wall. Rotate the books continually so children have new books to select from. Book display shelves are inexpensive and can be bought from many shops including IKEA. This would work really well in a child’s bedroom, a play room or on a wall inside the classroom.




Create a space within a space

own spaceChildren love to feel like they have found a secret room so why not create one at home or in the classroom. A secret room can be made with curtains, bunting or any other material lying around. Display books in the secret space with comfortable seating that children really want to sit in. Involve the child in putting the room together and have books on a rotating system.

 




Reading bench

readingbenchUsing an old bookshelf, turn it on the side and buy some foam to go on top of it. Buy some material to go over the foam and put some cushions on it. You may also have an old mattress (like a cot mattress) that you could use instead. If you prefer the reading bench to be off the floor screw in some legs at the bottom of the shelf. Put the collection of books on the shelves underneath. If you attach wheels to the bottom it will become a movable reading bench.

 

Choose a theme

themed areaUse your child’s interest to create a unique spot for them to read. There are so many free printable templates online that you can use to create a great reading nook with any theme. This would also work well in a classroom as it can relate to the theme that the class is studying. You can incorporate reading tubs or reading shelves nearby to hold the book collection.

 

This concludes our reading series blogs. Hopefully you have been inspired to create your own reading nook in your home or classroom. We will be starting a new Mathematics series of blogs soon so stay tuned.

If you would like to read some more blogs from this author please click on the links below.

20 ways to help your child learn their sight words

Literacy in the Primary classroom: Lower Case Letter formation

20 ways to help your child learn their sounds

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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Concepts about Print - 22 concepts that all parents and teachers need to know

imgres-2Welcome back to Creating A Learning Environment. This is our second blog in our new reading series. If you missed last weeks blog, which was the first blog in the series, click on the link below to read it.

Reading strategies to teach children 4- 9 year olds

This blog is all about the essential concepts about texts that children need to know in order to become successful readers. These concepts develop over time and it is hoped by the end of Kindergarten most children would know all 22.




Below is an outline of what each concept is, how you can check if your child knows each concept and a free concepts of print table that you can print off and use with your child or children in your classroom.

The concepts of print can be categorised into five sections.

Section 1 - Book concepts

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1. Identifies front of book - does the child know where the front cover is?

2. Identifies back of book - does the child know where the back cover is?

3. Identifies the title - can the child find where the title is?

Section 2 - Reading Concepts

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4. Words carry meaning - does the child know that we read the words and not the pictures?

5. One to One correspondence - can the child point to each word when an adult is reading?




Section 3 - Directionality Concepts

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6. Identifies the beginning of the text - can the child point to the beginning of the text on the correct page?

7. Left to right and top to bottom - does the child understand that we read left to right and top to bottom?

8. Return Sweep - does the child know that when you finish one line you go down to the next line, starting on the left?

Section 4 - Letter and word concepts

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9. First word on page - can the child point to the first word on the page?

10. Last word on page - can the child point to the last word on the page?

11. Identifies one word and two words - can the child point to one word and then show two words with their fingers?

12. First letter in a word - can the child show the first letter in a word?

13. Last Letter in a word - can the child show the last letter in that word?

14. Identifies one letter and two letters - can the child point to one letter and then show two letters with their fingers?

15. Naming 3 letters on the page - Can the child name and point to three letters?

Section 5 - Punctuation marks

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16. Capital letter - can the child point to a capital letter on the page?

17. Lower case letter - can the child point to a small letter on the page?

18. Full stop - can the child name this punctuation or identify why it is used?

19. Question mark - can the child name this punctuation or identify why it is used?

20. Exclamation mark - can the child name this punctuation or identify why it is used?

21. Comma - can the child name this punctuation or identify why it is used?

22. Quotation marks (Speech Marks) - can the child name this punctuation or identify why it is used?




If you are checking to see if your child or a child in your class has an understanding of each concept you can use the questions below to guide you. You can pick any book with large print and ask a few questions for each page. Do not try and ask all questions on one page. Ensure you read the child the story as well so it is an engaging task for them. You can start the session by asking them to help you learn about books.

Concept

 

What to ask
Identifies front of book “Show me the front of this book.”

 

Identifies back of book “Show me the back of this book.”

 

Identifies the title “Show me the name of this book or story.”

 

Words carry meaning “Show me where I start reading.”

 

One to One correspondence “You point to the words while I read the story.” (Read slowly, but fluently).

 

Identifies the beginning of the text “Show me with your finger where I have to begin reading.”

 

Left to right and top to bottom “Show me with your finger which way I go as I read this page.”

 

Return Sweep “Where do I go then?”
First word on page “Use your finger to show me the first word on this page.”

 

Last word on page “Use your finger to show me the last word on this page.”

 

Identifies one word and two words “Move your fingers until I can see one word. Now, show me two words.”

 

First letter in a word “Show me the first letter in a word.”

 

Last letter in a word “Show me the last letter in a word.”

 

Identifies one letter and two letters “Move your fingers and show me one letter. Now, show me two letters.”

 

Naming 3 letters on a page “Show me three letters that you know on this page and tell me the name of each one.”

 

Capital letter “Use your finger to show me a capital letter.”

 

Lowercase letter “Use your finger to show me a small letter.”

 

Full stop “What is this called?” or “What is this for?”

 

Question mark “What is this called?” or “What is this for?”

 

Exclamation mark “What is this called?” or “What is this for?”

 

Comma “What is this called?” or “What is this for?”

 

Quotation marks (Speech marks) “What are these called?” or “What are these for?”

The questions above can be used every time you read with your child. You wouldn’t ask all these questions each time but you may pick a few to focus on. It is important for children to know how texts work in order to have a great start as a beginning reader.

Below is a free card that we have made that you may want to put in your child’s book or somewhere in the classroom as a reference point for you. Click on the document link and simply print.

Concepts about Print CLE

We hope you have found this article insightful and helpful. Next week the third blog of the reading series will be uploaded. If you would like to read more from this author please click on some of her recent articles below.

10 Ways To Help Your Child With Math

10 Ways To Help Your Child Learn To Read

How to increase your child’s achievement through a “growth mindset”

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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Reading strategies to teach children 4 - 9 years old

imgresWhen we start teaching children to read, it is essential that we give them the “tools” to be successful. The main purpose when teaching a child to read is that they develop their level of comprehension. There are many elements that affect comprehension such as fluency, level of vocabulary, field knowledge (Are they familiar with the concepts that the text presents eg Antarctica or a circus?), reading strategies and their critical thinking skills.

This blog is the first article in our new series about the little details every parent and teacher needs to know about reading. In the blog today, we are focusing on 12 strategies that children must be taught to be able to work out unknown words.




Successful readers are confident at using many of these strategies and are able to select the correct one to use when faced with an unknown word. Many children plateau on a reading level because they have insufficient strategies. Their strategies may work at lower level texts but as the text gets more complicated they need to develop other strategies.

Below is a list of the 12 strategies with a brief description about each. How many of these does your child use?





imgres1. Look at the Picture

The child needs to do a “picture walk” through the book before reading it. Ensure that they understand what could be happening. Get the child to look for clues in the picture to help them decode an unknown word.

imgres2. What sounds are in the word?

Try not to use the words “sound it out”. Encourage your child to look for all the familiar sounds they know and put them together. eg ing, sh, er, br, ough




imgres-13. Look for smaller words within the word

Encourage your child to find smaller words in the unknown word that may help them. Eg homework

imgres-24. Break word into syllables

Breaking the word up will help the task of working out the word seem more achievable for your child. eg unbelievable    -un be liev a ble

imgres-35. Use the punctuation to help

Get your child to look all around the word to see if there are any punctuation clues. A question mark at the end of the sentence could help your child work out what type of word it may start with. Speech marks or quotation marks helps the child realise that it is what the character is saying. This may give them another clue.

imgres-46. Go back and read it again

When your child solves an unknown words, especially if it took them a little while always encourage them to go back to the beginning of the sentence and read it fluently to ensure they are reading for meaning.

imgres-17. Read on

Children can skip a word and read on until the end of the sentence. This strategy is like a cloze passage and checks to see if they are reading for meaning.

imgres-28. Listen to your voice

Many children do not listen to themselves while they read. This is essential at the beginning stages and children need to hear how they sound to check they are saying the correct word. You can even record them reading and play it back to them.

imgres-39. Does the word look like another word you know?

Ask your child if they know any other words that look similar and could help them work out the word. eg trough for an animal is like cough. Same sound ending with the same spelling.

imgres-510. Imagine what is happening

Get the child to visualise what is happening in the text. This will really help them to connect with what they are reading and work out possible words that may come up. eg Reading about putting out a fire usually would include the words fireman, hose, ladder etc

imgres-611. Ask a question

The child can think about a question that might help them work out the unknown word if they are reading for meaning. Eg What is the name of a car that has no roof? = convertible

imgres-412. Does it make sense?

Get the child to ask themselves, does their reading make sense?. If it did not then they have to go back and read it again.

Below is a table with all the twelve strategies for you to share with your child and help them to remember what tools they have in their reading tool belt to help them solve unknown words.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.44.59 pm(Copyright) Creating A Learning Environment

How to use the table?

  • Put colour counters on a strategy each time they use one
  • Use it as a memory card that can fit into their home reader. (like a bookmark)
  • Talk about two strategies the child is going to focus on by pointing to them.
  • When a child gets “stuck” on a word, give them the table and they can choose a strategy to try.

It is important that children can name their strategy that they are using. This helps with their metacognition - deep understanding about the concept of reading. The strategies increase in difficulty but it is important for children to use all strategies to be a successful reader. It can be tempting to just give the answers to a child but they learn nothing from that experience. They need to try and use some strategies themselves to work out the unknown word to experience real learning. As adults, these strategies are built in from years of reading. For a beginning reader (4-9 years old) they need to be explicitly taught.

Next week, part 2 of this blog series will be online. In the meantime if you want to read more articles from this author click on the links below.

20 ways to help your child learn their sight words

20 ways to help children remember multiplication facts.

20 ways to help your child learn their sounds

Until next time…

Kelly Pisani

Click here to email this post to yourself or a friend

Kindergarten interviews - What you need to know

It is this time of year that many primary schools commence Kindergarten enrolment interviews with children and their families for the next year. It may seem quite early but most interviews are in full swing across the country.

This can be an anxious time for parents as they are afraid of the unknown. Many parents want their children to “perform” in order to get a place at the school they believe will offer their child the best opportunities. In this blog I share 5 myths about the Kindergarten interview to help shed some light on some of the worries that parents hold.




  1. Your child will be offered a place if they perform well

schoolcatchmentGetting offered a place for your child for primary school the following year is determined by many things, but one of them is not how “academic” they are. Most places are offered on catchment area (the proximity that your residential address is from the school) Occasionally state schools do offer places to children who are on the border or have extenuating circumstances. In most faith based schools places are offered in order of what category that you fall into. Category one are baptised children who practice the faith in the Parish area. Category two are siblings of children already attending the school. Category three are baptised children who practice the faith in a different parish area. These three categories are given priority. After the places have been filled by children in these three categories all other children are considered. This includes baptised children who do not practice their faith, children from other faiths and other pastoral reasons.




2. I need to prepare my child for the interview

imgresParents may feel anxious about the interview because they do not know what to expect. They may feel that they need to “prepare” their child but are unaware of what they need to be focusing on. Firstly I want to say that you do not need to PREPARE your child for activities they may need to do in the interview. Think of the interview as a conversation between the school and family. It is a time for you to ask questions about the school and get a feel for the culture of the school. I would encourage parents to talk to their child about the upcoming interview to reassure the child that they get a chance to have a look at a “big” school. Children like to know about what will happen in order to feel comfortable so mentioning that the the Principal and possibly another teacher may ask them some questions about themselves will put them at ease. That is as much as you need to tell them. Get them excited about this new adventure and rest assure that no matter what happens in the interview places are given by a strict protocol not by what your child says or does not say in the interview.




3. The interview is like an exam

examWe need to put the interview in perspective. The interview is conducted about 8 months prior to starting school. The principal and other teachers on the panel are well aware that children will change so much in that time. Some children will take leaps in their learning, will mature over that time and really become ready for school even though you can not imagine them at school now. The principal or teacher may ask your child a couple of questions and ask them to do a couple of tasks. This is not a test but simply a basic measure to see where the child is at with their learning and identify any obvious areas that may need further investigation. They may be asked to name some colours, write their name, count some objects and answer questions about their interests.

4. I wont tell them about my child’s need as I fear they will not get offered a place

imagesDuring the many kindergarten interviews that I have done, this by far is the one that parents are most fearful about. They are worried that the Principal or teacher will see their child’s “true” colours in the interview and as a result will not get a place. It is so IMPORTANT to ensure that the school has a true image on what your child’s needs are. Early intervention is the most successful strategy to helping children develop skills or concepts so it is important that schools are made aware of any current intervention happening. This may even be notifying them about an appointment time to a specialist in the upcoming months. Schools appreciate parents being proactive and by giving the school this information they are able to make the transition for your child smoother and more successful. If the school knows your child’s needs from day one they are able to put strategies in place for your child to help them make the change from preschool to primary school with less stress and anxiety. Remember that children are not given places in regards to their academic skills or behaviour.

5. I do not want to appear silly so I will not ask any questions
imgresThe interview is not only a chance for the school to learn more about your child but a chance for you to learn about the school. Ask questions about what you want to know. What features of a school are you looking for? You want to walk out of the school with a really good understanding about what they are on about and the priorities they have. Each school is different and it is important to find one that suits your family.

Hopefully you have found this blog insightful and you are feeling more positive about the upcoming kindergarten interview that you have. Enjoy this experience as you begin this new chapter of parenting.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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If you would like to read some more articles by this author please click on the links below.

Big School: 5 tips for making it a smooth transition

Preparing your child for Kindergarten: 10 tips for the reluctant writer

10 ways to help your child learn to read

 

Information and advice to help your child in school - Part 2

Welcome back to CREATING A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT.
meaningful tasksWe started our blog series,”Information and advice to help your child in school” last week. This week we have Part 2.  In this week’s blog we have put together 5 insightful articles from Creating A Learning Environment that will help parents with support, advice and tips to ensure their child is reaching their potential. The articles cover a variety of topics in order to give specific assistance to all parent’s concerns.




1. Reading Levels

LeveledreaderA reading level (whether it be a number, colour or letter, depending on the book) indicates to the teacher what type of reader the child is. A child could be a beginner reader, emergent (developing) reader or an independent reader. The level is usually displayed at the front or back of the book. A reading level is given by a teacher who has conducted a “running record”, which is a reading assessment tool. Click on the link below to get essential information about reading levels.

What K-2 teachers want you to know: Reading Levels




2. Addition and Subtraction

CountingChildren need to have many opportunities to problem solve using mental strategies before they are exposed to more rigid, procedural strategies. We want our children to approach each Mathematical task creatively and critically. The link below shows addition and subtraction strategies that will benefit your young child. I like to think of these as tools for your child’s problem solving toolbox. Each tool has a different purpose and when used correctly can help a child solve a number problem successfully.

Teaching Mathematics to Young Children: Addition and Subtraction




3. Reading strategies

reading 2Teaching children about reading strategies is equipping them with tools to solve reading problems. Using reading strategies effectively will help children become confident, fluent and expressive readers who develop a love of reading. By clicking on the link below, you will read about effective reading strategies that will benefit your child.

How to read with your child - Reading Strategies

4. Print Concepts

readingIn order for children to read they need to know how a book works. This is what teachers call “Print Concepts”. Most children are expected to know about some of these concepts prior to starting school, while others are developed through Kindergarten and Year 1. In NSW schools, children are tested on their knowledge of Print Concepts at the beginning of Kindergarten, end of Kindergarten, Year 1 and at any other point for “at risk” readers (children not meeting benchmarks). It is important for parents to have a good understanding about Print Concepts in order to help develop their child’s understanding of them. Most parents refer to print concepts while reading to their child without even realising it. Below is the link to the Print Concepts article.

How to read with young children: Print Concepts

5. Place Value

numberfishingPlace value is the understanding of “where” a digit is in a number and knowing the value of it. For example, in the number 6 023, the place value of 2 is “tens” and in the number 2.43, the place value of 3 is “hundredths”. A solid understanding of place value allows the child to read, write, order and interpret numbers confidently.

Below is a list of the growth points of “place value” that children should move through and parent tips of how to support their child at home to achieve a given growth point.

Teaching Mathematics to Young Children - Place Value

Hopefully these five articles has given you some guidance and understanding when helping your child grasp literacy and numeracy concepts.

Next week, Part 3 of the series will be available with another 5 educational articles to help parents.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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The Best 8 DIY Costumes For Book Week

Book Week has arrived!! This coming week we celebrate books and all they offer. Most schools ask students to dress up as a favourite book character and participate in a book parade.

It is important to remember the main objectives of a book parade before you go off and spend a lot of money on a costume. The parade is an opportunity for children and their teachers to have some fun and get a little creative.

There are many home made costumes that I have seen over the years that are creative, inexpensive and do not require any sewing. Below is a list of 8 that I have complied that you may want to attempt.

1. Paper bag princess

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The Paper Bag Princess is a children’s book written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko.

The costume requires some brown paper, cut and stuck into a dress shape, a white long sleeve shirt, black tights and a small crown. You could put some face paint on to resemble dirt on her face.

2. Sam I Am

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Green Eggs and Ham is a best-selling and critically acclaimed children’s book by Dr Seuss, first published on August 12, 1960. Sam I Am is a character in this book.

The costume requires a yellow shirt, dark pants, red hat, cardboard sign that has “Sam I Am” written on it and a cardboard plate with green eggs and ham drawn on or stuck on.

3. Thing 1 and Thing 2

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The Cat in the Hat is a children’s book written and illustrated by Theodor Geisel under the pen name Dr Seuss and first published in 1957. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are characters in this book.

The costume requires a red shirt with “Thing 1” or “Thing 2” written on while material or paper and stuck on. Blue or black pants or skirt with a blue wig.

4. Where’s Wally

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Where’s Wally? (known in the United States and Canada as Where’s Waldo?) is a series of children’s books created by the English illustrator Martin Handford. The books consist of a series of detailed double-page spread illustrations depicting dozens or more people doing a variety of amusing things at a given location. Wally is a character in the book that is hiding on each page.

The costume requires a red and white striped shirt, blue pants or skirt, red beanie and thick black glasses.

5. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Tree

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Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a bestselling children’s book written by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert and published by Simon & Simon & Schuster in 1989.

The costume requires brown clothes, green cardboard leaves, brown or red cardboard circles and stick on letters. You can make a cardboard headband to wrap around the child’s head and stick the leaves onto the front part.

6. Heart card

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. The deck of cards characters are the guardians of the Queen of Hearts in this book.

The costume requires a red long sleeve shirt and pants, two pieces of white cardboard with red hearts painted on them and ribbon to stick the cardboard pieces together over the shoulder of the child.

7. Mr Men or Little Miss Character

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Mr. Men is a series of 49 children’s books by British author Roger Hargreaves, commencing in 1971. From 1981, an accompanying series of 42 Little Miss books by the same author, but with female characters.

The costume requires the child to wear a matching long sleeve shirt and pants in the same colour as the Mr Men or Little miss character. Using cardboard, the character is drawn and cut out. This is done twice to create a sandwich board.

8. Jack

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Jack and the Beanstalk is an English fairy tale. The earliest known appearance in print is Benjamin Tabart’s version of 1807. Jack is a character in this book trying to get money to buy food for his family.

This costume requires a brown long sleeve shirt and pants. You can make the beanstalk by stuffing newspaper into a pair of stockings. This is then painted green and light green paint added for some detail on the beanstalk. Wrap the stocking around the child and pin it to the clothes by using safety pins. The child could also have 3 golden eggs to carry and have his name attached to his shirt.

I hope some of these ideas have given you some inspiration to get creative for your child’s book week costumes. Involve your child on the decision making and the creating part of the costume. Children love being part of the process. Please remember, it is not about how expensive or extravagant the costume is. Book week is about celebrating all books and exploring all the wonderful characters that we are introduced to through books.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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The Celebration Of Books: Book Week Nominations

Book week is nearly here!! Each year, schools and public libraries across Australia spend a week celebrating books and Australian authors and illustrators. Classroom teachers, teacher librarians and public librarians develop activities, offer competitions and tell stories relating to a theme to highlight the importance of reading.

small BW promo logoThis year Book Week is being celebrated between  Saturday 22nd August - Friday 28th August 2015. Each year the Australian Book Council of Australia chooses a theme that will inspire children and adults to share their love of reading. This year the theme is “Books light up our world”. Book week this year is extra special as it will be celebrating 70 years since it all began.

 

In the lead up to book week, 6 books are nominated for the honourary title of book of the year from the Australian Book Council of Australia in their category. The categories are older readers book of the year, younger readers book of the year, early childhood book of the year, picture book of the year and the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books. Books were shortlisted on April the 14th and the winner will be announce on Friday the 21st August at 12pm.

In this blog I will look at one book in each category that you may want to read with your child or children in your classroom.

Category: Nominated for Older Readers Book of the Year

Nona & Me by Claire Atkins

Nona and MeRosie and Nona are sisters. Yapas.

They are also best friends. It doesn’t matter that Rosie is white and Nona is Aboriginal: their family connections tie them together for life.

Born just five days apart in a remote corner of the Northern Territory, the girls are inseperable, until Nona moves away at the age of nine. By the time she returns, they’re in Year 10 and things have changed. Rosie has lost interest in the community, preferring to hang out in the nearby mining town, where she goes to school with the glamorous Selena, and Selena’s
gorgeous older brother Nick.

When a political announcement highlights divisions between the Aboriginal community and the mining town, Rosie is put in a difficult position: will she be forced to choose between her first love and her oldest friend?

‘A fascinating book, beautifully told, with rich insight into a deeply Australian but little known community.’ – Jackie French

Category: Nominated for Younger Readers Book of the Year

Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks

Two WolvesAn old man tells his grandson that there is a battle raging inside him, inside all of us. A terrible battle between two wolves. One wolf is bad – pride, jealousy, greed. The other wolf is good – kindness, hope, truth. The child asks, ‘Who will win?’ The grandfather answers simply, ‘The one you feed.’

One afternoon, police officers show up at Ben Silver’s front door. Minutes after they leave, his parents arrive home. Ben and his little sister Olive are bundled into the car and told they’re going on a holiday. But are they?

It doesn’t take long for Ben to realise that his parents are in trouble. Ben’s always dreamt of becoming a detective – his dad even calls him ‘Cop’. Now Ben gathers evidence and tries to uncover what his parents have done.

The problem is, if he figures it out, what does he do? Tell someone? Or keep the secret and live life on the run?

‘Gripping and unpredictable, with a hero you won’t forget.’ - John Boyne, author of The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas

Category: Nominated for Early Childhood Book of the Year

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey

pigcoverThis is a story about a Pug named Pig who finds it very difficult to share. A small dog is on hand to teach him all about sharing but it is not in the way that you would expect. Aaron Blabey has created many hilarious moments that can be appreciated by young children and adults.

“I defy anyone to read this picture book and not laugh. Hilarious.” - Sydney Morning Herald
“Pig the Pug had us chuckling from the title…(and) the final page had us in stitches. A book to return to often.” - The Weekend Australian

Category: Nominated for Picture Book of the Year

Rivertime by Trace Balla

RivertimeA gentle and beautiful book about slowing down and growing up, set on Australia’s Glenelg River and featuring a ten-year-old boy and his uncle. Trace Balla is often found sketching in nature, riding her bike with her son, dancing, and growing vegies in her garden in central Victoria. She works as an illustrator, community artist, art therapist, animator, and writer of songs and stories.

Category: Nominated for the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Mary’s Australia: How Mary Mackillop changed Australia by Pamela Freeman

Mary's AustraliaMary MacKillop changed the course of Australia’s history.

Mary MacKillop watched Australia grow from a collection of small colonies into a nation - and she was proud of the country she had a part in creating. How did Australia change in her lifetime? And how much influence did Mary MacKillop have in shaping Australia?

  • Mary MacKillop is one of the most influential people in Australia’s history.
  • Mary MacKillop is well-known for being Australia’s first and so far only saint.

I hope you have found some inspiration in this blog to start reading one of these quality books with your child or class. Reading is a gift and should be treasured.

Next week I will focus on another 5 books that have also been nominated for the Australian Council Books of the year.

Happy reading everyone.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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It’s report season! - 10 Facts That All Parents Must Know Before Reading Their Child’s Report

Welcome back to Creating A Learning Environment. I can not believe that it is nearly the end of Term 4. Where has this year gone? The end of a Semester, means a very busy time for teachers. This is the time where teachers use all their observations and assessments to provide a formal document about each child in their class, to reflect on what that child has learnt and developed over the two terms.

This blog will look into the world of “grading” for reports and give parents information about what they need to know before they even open their child’s report.

New South Wales Primary schools send student reports home twice a year. The first one being at the end of Semester 1 (End of Term 2) and the second one at the end of Semester 2 (End of Term 4). The report’s aim is to give parents information about their child and give the parent an understanding of whether their child is meeting benchmarks for their age.

Reports can cause a lot of mixed emotions for many households. It can be a time of celebration of a child’s achievement or a realisation that your child is struggling to meet the expected level of a particular grade. With all situations, reports need to be used as a conversation starter between you and your child and between you and your child’s teacher.

Below is a list of 10 facts that all parents need to know before they read their child’s report.

1. The Board Of Studies - What is a KLA?

BoS%20Logo[1]The Board of Studies is the governing body for the implementation of teaching and assessing of students in NSW. They are responsible for setting the core curriculum that is being taught in schools and regulates how much time is allocated to the teaching of each KLA (Key Learning Area). A Key Learning Area is a term used to name a particular area of study.  There are 6 KLA’s in Primary School. They are English, Mathematics, Human Society and Its Environment (History), Science, Creative Arts and Personal Development, Health and Physical Education. Some schools may have the addition of Religious Education as their seventh KLA. All these KLA’s need to be assessed by a child’s teacher and a child is given a grade for each of these KLA’s on their reports.

2. Time allocation for each KLA

KLAsSchools are restricted to how much time they can allocate to the teaching of each KLA. Teachers must assess each child for each KLA in the allocated time per week. In Primary school the time allocations are; English (25%-35%), Mathematics (20%), Science (6%-10%), HSIE (6%-10%), Creative Arts (6%-10%), PDHPE (6%-10%) and additional time for Religious Education, assemblies etc (up to 20%). As a general guide 6%-10% is usually 1.5 - 2.5hrs in a typical teaching week. Many infant classes use combined units to incorporate a few KLA’s in the one learning experience.

3. Stages in Primary Education

children readingThere are 4 stages in Primary Education. Early Stage 1 is Kindergarten, Stage 1 is Years 1-2, Stage 2 is Years 3-4 and Stage 3 is Years 5-6. There are many different types of schools within NSW. Some schools operate in year groups and some schools operate in stage groups. Some schools operate in single classrooms while others have open learning (a few classes work in their own space in a large room). All students are different and they thrive differently in different environments. All schools are bound by the same curriculum, time allocation for teaching each KLA and grading responsibilities, however, schools can chose the best way to deliver the teaching and learning experiences to their students.

4. Outcomes

teacher assessingEach KLA has outcomes that address a particular concept in the area of study that is related to what stage level the child is at. Teachers assess whether a child has not achieved, achieved or has gone beyond each outcome at the particular stage of each KLA. A teacher must look at the child’s achievement across all the outcomes in a KLA that have been taught and then communicate that to the parent and child in the form of a grade for that KLA. An example of a Kindergarten outcome in Mathematics is “Counts to 30, and orders, reads and represents numbers in the range 0 to 20”

5. Kindergarten grading

reading 1Kindergarten is the only grade in Primary school that does not have “Grades”. Teachers generally communicate a child’s achievement in relation to them achieving an outcome or working towards an outcome. This is their first year at “formal schooling” and being it is its own stage, grading does not commence until the children move into Stage 1.

6. What does a “C” mean?

Grade AThis is an area that causes the most stress to parents as the meanings of grades have changed a lot since they went to school. Most parents want their child to receive an “A” but many parents do not realise how difficult it really is to receive an “A”. A “C” is given to a student who is meeting all the requirements of that stage level. They are able to work efficiently in the classroom and achieve all benchmarks at that stage. Most students, as a result, will receive a “C”. Even though some parents are not happy with their child’s “C” for a KLA, it actually informs them that their child is doing exactly what they are meant to be doing.

7. How a teacher grades

assessmentsGrading is not an easy task. Many students can be on the border line of two grades. Two students could receive a “C” for a KLA but one could actually be a high C (nearly a B) and the other could be a low C (just higher than a D). Even though each grade could have such a big spectrum this is not written on the report. A teacher must use all the assessments completed, written evidence in work books and their own observations to give one grade for an entire KLA. They must look at everything that has been taught during the Semester and the contribution that the child has made to group tasks, individual tasks, projects and class discussions to get an overall achievement level.

8. Student’s strengths

littleboyParents may find a grade unjust for their child if their child may be particularly gifted in an area of that KLA. For example, If a child is a particularly gifted skier and they receive a “C” for PDHPE, their parent may believe that this grade is not a reflection of their child. What the parent does not realise, is that within each KLA there are many strands that need to be taught. In PDHPE there are several strands. All health modules, Dance, Gymnastics, Games and Sports, and Active Lifestyle. This child may be gifted in Skiing but that is only one sport out of many that may or may not be taught within the school. They may achieve at a “normal” level with all other sports and their understanding of the theory component associated to PDHPE, so their average grade for all areas of PDHPE is a “C”. This is reflected in all KLA’s.

9. Report Comments

ParentsreadingReport comments can be particularly difficult for a teacher. They are restricted by how many characters they can write and also how they are allowed to describe different learning attributes of a student. The best advice I have for parents is LISTEN in your parent-teacher interviews. This is a time where teachers can go into more detail about your child and show you examples of your child’s work. They can suggest specific activities you could do at home with your child that targets your child’s area of weakness. Always attend the parent-teacher interviews as they usually offer so much more information than a grade on a paper.

10. Working out a plan

parentteacherPrior to reading a child’s report, a parent generally has a good idea of their child’s academic ability. If you have concerns about your child’s rate of development and reading their report supports your thoughts, speak to the child’s class teacher about it. Just because a child is struggling it does not always mean that they will struggle for the rest of their educational journey. Work out a plan with your child’s teacher about the next steps that you or the school will undertake to identify what your child’s additional learning needs may be. This could include going to a GP, having a speech or hearing assessment or having an observation survey completed by an OT or specialised teacher. Early intervention is the key, so the earlier you identify the extra needs of your child, the more success your child will have. Always book a date for the next meeting with the teacher in order to discuss what has been completed since the previous meeting.

Grades of an A,B,C, D or E enables parents to have a small insight into the academic abilities of their child. Teachers encourage parents to not use grades as the only way to judge their child’s success at school. They need to also think about their child’s social and emotional development as a factor in assessing a child’s “success” at school.

If your child has special needs and you and their teacher believes that “no benefit” will come from your child reading all “E’s” in their report, you can request to have a report with no grades and just comments. The special need’s teacher at your school can offer more information about this idea.

Reports cause a lot of stress for children, parents and teachers. Always remember to use reports as a way of starting communication with your child about their strengths and weaknesses at school. Try not to compare their grades with their peers or with other siblings. Use it to get your child to set some academic goals they want to achieve before the end of next Semester.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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How To Read With Your Older Child

Welcome to the first blog in my next series focusing on the older child in Primary school. There is so much information for parents and educators on how to help children in the younger grades achieve their potential but it seems to taper off when a child reaches 9 or 10 years old. In this series, I aim to give lots of practical advice and tips to help parents of children aged 9 - 12 years old to be able to support the learning which is going on in the classroom, at home.

This first blog “How to read with your older child” will outline 5 ways that parents can support the reading development of their child. All children in the middle to upper grades of Primary school are given mandatory reading each night as part of their homework task. Most parents are at a loss, as to how to support their independent reader to ensure that their child is understanding the information from their more complex texts.

Like with a younger child, the love of reading needs to be the focus. Unfortunately as children get older, support for reading at home gets less and less as parents expect that children sit and read independently without any interaction. Reading is seen as a solitary task and any difficulties the child is having may go undetected. If they find reading difficult, especially comprehending what they are reading, they will begin to dislike this task and it will cause bigger issues in the future.

A great quote I always refer to is that “comprehension, floats on conversation”. This is very true for the older child. They need many opportunities to discuss the harder themes, more difficult vocabulary and more complex sentence structure that becomes present in their harder texts they are given to read.

Below is a list of 5 activities that you could do with your child when they have the homework task of reading for a specific amount of time. They are all engaging and aim to help your child have a better understanding of what they are reading. Maybe you can try these with your child every second night.

1. The child plays the role of predicator

images-1Whether your child is about to read a new text or start a new chapter, it is very important for them to be able to predict what could happen. This skill will give you an indication of whether they understand how texts work, can use information of previous texts or chapters to guide their thoughts and to see if they are understanding the plot or themes occurring in the text.

Parent tips

  • Get your child to tell you verbally what has happened (the events) in a previous chapter and what they predict could happen next.
  • Get your child to tell you what a character has been like in previous chapters and what they predict they could be like in the next one.
  • Get your child to give you examples to back up their prediction. Eg I predict the main character will get detention for not handing in homework because in the previous chapter the teacher said that if he forgets his homework again there will be consequences.
  • After the child has read a chapter, get them to come back and let you know if their prediction was right.

2. The child plays the role of clarifier

imgres-1As the child gets older they will be exposed to more challenging texts which will have a higher level of vocabulary. It is essential that children learn the skills to be able to work out what a word means by the context that it is in. A dictionary can also play a role, but we want the child to problem solve first and use it to check what they think.

Parent tips

  • Give your child a sticky note and get them to write down three words or phrases that they find difficult in the text while reading. After reading for the specified time, get your child to tell you the words/phrases. Encourage them to read the paragraph aloud to you that contains the difficult word or phrase and get them to have a go at explaining what it could be.
  • Get your child to try and put any difficult words in their own sentences to see if they understand what it means.
  • Have your child think of synonyms (words that mean the same) that the author could have used instead. Have a discussion with them as to why the author may have chosen that word. Eg despised instead of not liked.
  • Discuss any issues or difficult topics that may have come up during the chapter. It could be the emotions associated with a character dealing with a situation eg bullying, death, sickness, loneliness. Get your child to see the situation from a variety of character perspectives. A parent could ask them, why do you think the character acted like that?

3. The child plays the role of Questioner

Unknown-2Being able to ask a “good” question will give you an understanding of the comprehension skills of your child. A child needs to be able to ask questions that require a deeper understanding to answer them. Asking the right questions in life will indicate that the child knows his/her weakness and can get clarification to keep developing their understanding. Starting questions with “how” and “why” will encourage this deeper understanding.

Parent tips

  • Get your child to read a chapter aloud to you. After that, get them to read it again independently. They can then form 2 or 3 questions about the plot, issues or characters that start with how or why. Have a discussion about the chapter using the questions as a focus.
  • Encourage your child to research about a particular issue or topic that may come up in the text, relating to a question they have. Eg finding out more information about conditions in the depression that might impact of what people did to survive. This research could come about from a question like “Why did the main character steal a loaf of bread, when he knew he could go to gaol?
  • Encourage your child to ask two questions about why an author has used a particular format or character to convey a message. Eg Why does the author use diary entries in the book? Have a discussion about how authors have their own perspective and that impacts on how the text is written.
  • You can also answer their questions by referring to the text to show your child how you need to use what is written and your understanding about the world to form your answer.

4. The child plays the role of Summariser

imgresA child needs to be about to summarise the main points or events that occur in their text. They need to understand what is important and how it contributes to the purpose of the text.

 

Parent tips

  • Get your child to retell what they just read. Ensure that they give you lots of information as you have not read it.
  • Get your child to write a summary of the text that they have read that is less than 60 words. (a, is, I count as words). This will help them to become more succinct.
  • Get your child to explain the changes in a particular character during that chapter. Ensure they tell you how and why they have changed. Ask them how they are like that character and how they are unlike that character.
  • Get your child to tell you the purpose of that chapter or text. Why does the author include it or write about it. Your child needs to give evidence from the text justifying why they think that.

5. The child plays the role of Applier

imagesA child needs to be able to understand what they have read and use this knowledge to apply it to another aspect of their lives. This is a very difficult concept as it requires two steps for children to undertake.

Parent tips

  • After your child has read the chapter or entire text get them to write down 2 new facts they have learnt that they did not know before. Get them to share their discoveries with you.
  • Get your child to suggest ways that they can use their new understanding in their own lives. (eg Cyber bullying is a really big problem now - The child says to protect themselves from it they will not go on the internet after 8pm to reduce the risk)
  • Have a discussion with your child about issues that have come up in the text and how to solve problems if they do arise.

All Primary school children need to be engaged in three different reading experiences. The three experiences are modelled, guided and independent. When a child gets older (9-12 years old), they tend to be only involved in independent reading at home. We need to ensure as parents and educators, to give as many modelled and guided reading opportunities as possible to lay a really strong foundation of reading skills. Older children still need to hear adults read, as they will hear the fluency and reading strategies needed for more challenging texts. Read a variety of texts aloud to your child as much as possible. Continue to get your older child to read to you now and again and praise them for their developing comprehension skills.

I hope this blog has given you some practical ideas on how to continue to guide your child’s reading skills when they are older. Please continue to share, comment and spread the word about CREATING A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT. I really appreciate all your support and feedback.

Until next time …readwitholderchild

Kelly Pisani

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20 Ways To Help Your Child Learn Their Sounds

Sound Collage

Welcome to my third blog in the series “Literacy in the Primary Classroom”. In this blog I focus on how educators and parents can use games in their home and classroom to help children learn sounds successfully.




Learning the sounds that letters make in our alphabet are the building blocks to writing and reading. Children need to have a comprehensive understanding and knowledge of the relationship between the letter and the sound.  This will give them a solid foundation to learn to read and write efficiently.

Children begin learning sounds before they start primary school. They may know the sound of the letter that begins their name or the sound of a letter of their favourite toy. As you have probably already gathered from my previous blogs, I do not encourage parents and educators to only use flashcards to help a child learn a concept. Learning in context is the best way that children learn anything. It needs to mean something to the child in order for them to store the information in their brain.

Enabling your child to learn their sounds in a fun environment is pivotal to their success. There are so many quick games that the child could play independently, with a sibling or a parent which gives the child a meaningful learning environment to learn their sounds successfully.




It is important for your child to be exposed to lowercase and uppercase letters. Children need to learn that we mainly write in lower case letters and only use uppercase letters for the beginning of a sentence or beginning of a proper noun. So many children begin school writing their entire name using capital letters. Please discourage this as it is a very hard habit to break.

Once children have learnt most of the sounds of the alphabet, they need to be exposed to sounds that letters make when they are together. For example phonic blends like ch, sh, ar, ou, er and ing.

Below is a list of 20 sound games that can be played at home and at school. Not only do they give your child an opportunity to learn their sounds but they also are fun and engaging learning activities. All these games are versatile so you can use single sounds or more complicated sound patterns in the games depending of your child’s needs. 

1. Hammer sounds

HammerPut a sticker of a letter on each block of wood. Have a mystery bag that has objects that begin with each letter. Have the child put their hand into the bag without looking and pull out one object. The child needs to say the name of the object and say what letter it starts with. They can then hammer down the corresponding letter on the wood while making the letter’s sound.




2. Padlock sounds

PadlocksHave a variety of padlocks with matching keys. On each padlock, put a sticker of an object. Write the beginning letter of the object on the corresponding keys. Lock all the padlocks and put in a tub. Mix up all the keys as well. The child must look at each object, determine the starting sound and use the correct letter key to open it. Ensure that the child says the correct sound for the letter.

3. Musical sounds

musical soundsWrite all the sounds on different pieces of paper and spread around the outside of a large table. Get you child to use their finger or a toy to move around onto each letter while the music is on. When the music stops, the child must stop on that sound. They must say the name and sound of that letter (or letter pattern)

4. Plastic egg match

lettersoneggsUsing plastic eggs, write the lower case and upper case letter on each half of the egg. Take all the eggs apart and mix them up in a tub. The child can match all the correct halves back together while saying their name and sound. (There are many plastic eggs in the shops at the moment due to Easter)

5. Paper plate sounds

fb1cabdd2b26c35d78711e1baee6f9adUsing a paper plate, write all the upper case letters around the outside. Have the matching lower case letters on single pegs. The child must match all the letters/sounds together while saying the letter names and sounds.

6. Sound catch

WaterFill up a small container with water. Write the letter/sounds on ping pong balls. The child must use a net to catch a ping pong ball and say the name and sound before putting it into their fishing bucket.

7. Shaving cream tray

c563165f34fc9fc6d7b8f5431f6edbf6Fill a mini cupcake tray with shaving cream. Gently put a piece of paper on each with a letter/sound written on it. The child must say the letter sound and name before they can push the piece of paper down to the bottom of the cupcake tin. Children love squashing the shaving cream. This has always been a successful game for me.

8. Toy match

matchtoysWrite letters/sounds all over a large piece of paper. Have a collection of little toys that all begin with one of the letters/sounds on the paper. The child must put each little toy on the corresponding letter/sound while saying the name and sound of that letter.

9. Simple sound board game

17eb72ea5d54cc1397b0c5613fa95f40Make up a simple snake like board game that has all the sounds that your child is working on. Have a little toy to be the player’s piece. The child rolls the dice and moves that many spots. They must say the letter name, sound and a word that begins (or has it in if you prefer) with that sound before they can have another turn.

10. Sound Popcorn

soundpopcornWrite the letter/sound on outlines of popcorn and put them in a popcorn bag. The child needs to choose a piece of popcorn and put it on their popcorn paper template in the correct spot (or colour in or cross off) while saying the name and sound of the letter.

11. Sound water spray

waterspraysoundsUse chalk on a blackboard or pavement to write the letters/sounds that your child is working on. The child must say the correct name and sound of the letter before they can use the water spray to take it away.

12. Bulldozer sounds

bulldozersoundsMake a track for a bulldozer to go along. You can use tape, lines on a piece of paper or lines in the sand. Have the child use their bulldozer to pick up the letters/sounds along the way. They must say the letter name and sound.

13. Matching spoons

spoonsWrite all uppercase letters on the tip of coloured spoons. Write all lowercase letters on the base of clear spoons. Mix all the spoons up and the child must put the a clear spoon on top of the matching coloured spoon to make a pair. They must say the name and sound when they have formed a pair.

14. Scavenger hunt

scavenger huntHave all the letters/sounds written on separate pieces of paper. The child must search the home or classroom to find an object that starts with each letter/sound. They place the object on the letter and continue until the 10 minute time limit is up. Then they have to say all the sounds they were able to find and the ones they could not.

15. Treasure hunt

treasure huntHide letters/sounds in a sandpit or in the soil. The child must dig around to find all the hidden sound fossils. (you could write the letters on dinosaur bone shapes). The child would then say all the sounds they have found.

16. Alphabet toss

alphabettossWrite all the letters/sounds on balls or beanbags. The child picks up a ball or beanbag, says the name and sound and tries to throw it into one of the baskets in front of them.

17. Alphabet hide

alphabethideandseekWrite all the letters of the alphabet on different blocks of Duplo. Hide them around the house or classroom. The child must find them all and correctly order them in an alphabet tower. They must say the name and sound of each letter.

18. Feed the Monster

Feed-the-Alphabet-Monster-466x1000Make a monster out of an empty wipe container. Have all the letters/sounds written on pieces of paper. The child feeds the monster the letters (letters written on old bottle caps) and the monster makes the sound of the letter they are eating. The child can be the voice of the monster. Alternatively this can be a two player game. One child feeds the monster, the other is the monster who makes the sounds.

19. Dice game

dicegameMake a template similar to this image. The child rolls the dice and colours in the first sound in that row. They must say the letter name and sound. Before the game starts they need to guess which row they think will be coloured in first.

20. Sound I spy

Phonics-I-spy-discovery-bottle-game-680x915Put a variety of objects in a bottle. Write their corresponding letters on a sheet. Fill the rest of the bottle up with rice or sand. The child shakes the bottle around and when they find an object they must say the first sound of that object and cross the letter off on their sheet. They need to cross off all letters.

It is important that children engage in meaningful learning experiences in order to gain the knowledge and understanding about a subject matter. Have fun with your child as they begin to learn their sounds. Always try to point out letters in our environment to make connections for your child.

I hope this blog has given you some useful information about incorporating some interesting sound games at home and in the classroom. Playing these games will help your child learn their sounds in a fun and meaningful way, instead of just using flash cards.

Until next time…

Kelly Pisani

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