The homework station.

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If homework at our house was a book, it’s title would be ‘100 ways to procrastinate – the ultimate guide to putting things off’.

The conversations go something like this – “I need the scissors”, “I can’t find a pencil”, “Where’s my homework book?” and “I left my pencil case at school”.

In an attempt to eliminate this daily struggle, I have created a homework station, which contains everything a little person could possibly need to complete their dreaded homework. I used this trolley, as it is bright, has three levels, and is on wheels. We keep it next to the kitchen bench, which is where the children do their homework. I like being able to keep an eye on them, and be close enough to help when needed.

Pencils, textas, crayons, scissors, eraser, sharpener, ruler and glue sticks live on the top level; homework books are in the middle; and spare paper is kept at the bottom. I try to keep it looking tidy so that the children can get straight into their work, without having to hunt around for what they need.

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I use silver plant pots to hold the pencils, so the children can move them to where they are needed. These pots also help to keep everything organised. I find that the easier it is for children to put things away, the more inclined they are to do so.

I deliberately made the area as inviting as possible as I want homework to be a pleasurable experience, not something to avoid. (hmm..we’re still working on this!) I know that when my office desk is neat, clear and organised, I do feel more motivated to begin work. We also try to stick to a routine when it comes to homework. After the children have unpacked their bags, changed out of their uniforms and had something to eat, they do half an hour of homework. I like to get it out of the way, so they then have the rest of the afternoon to relax and play.

Having all of the drawing materials in the one place also means that quite often, the children will just grab some paper and the coloured pencils, and sit up at the kitchen bench to draw a picture while I am making dinner. I love chatting to them about their day as they draw and colour and create.

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What tips do you have for getting children to do their homework?

Are you a procrastinator, or do you just get stuck in?

Do your creative juices flow when you see a row of perfectly sharpened, coloured pencils?

What I have learnt from Milly Molly Mandy.

We have, once again,  just finished reading Milly Molly Mandy, the children’s book about a little girl and her family, which was first published in 1925. I love reading these books to my children, as I get as much pleasure as they do (maybe more?) hearing about life in the English countryside in the 1920’s, learning about how they lived their lives, what was important to them, how they grew their own food and sewed their own clothes.

When I am feeling particularly stressed at the end of the day, I like reading about how Mother baked apple turnovers and made jam from the blackberries that Milly Molly Mandy collected. I find it soothing. It seems a long way away from paying the phone bill, updating policy manuals and doing my tax return.

I have also learnt a thing or two from these books:-

Children do not need much to be happy.

Milly Molly Mandy and her friends spend long days fishing for tadpoles, planting pumpkin seeds, making dolls, and picking blackberries.  Their parents are too busy running their farms and shops to be setting up guided play experiences for them.  They do not get driven to ballet lessons and soccer practice; they don’t have playrooms full of the latest toys or wardrobes bursting with fashionable clothes.

When they are not helping with chores or at school, they are free to explore, to learn from and to be entertained by the world around them.

They are also given a lot more responsibilities than children are nowadays. While I am not advocating a return to the work-houses, I do know that children relish being given ‘grown-up’ jobs to do. The children in Milly Molly Mandy cook onions, paint  fences, and polish the brass. These tasks all present challenges, adventures and good deal of fun.

Different generations can live quite happily and productively together.

Milly Molly Mandy lives with her Mother, Father, Uncle, Auntie, Grandmother and Grandfather in their nice white cottage with the thatched roof and “everybody…had some particular job to do-even Milly Molly Mandy”. For example, Mother cooked the dinners and washed the clothes, Grandma did the knitting, Grandpa took the vegetables to market in his pony-cart and Milly Molly Many ran errands.

While I know that this is an exaggerated version of family life in the 1920’s, it was certainly more common then than it is now. Indeed, there are many cultures today where nursing homes are unheard of, and the elderly live with their families, contributing where they can to the running of the household.

Although this is often not a viable or preferable option for many people, it would be nice to see it being encouraged and facilitated by governments through programs such as home visits by healthcare professionals and adequate carer allowances for family members.

‘Make do and mend’ is a sensible and sustainable approach to living.

In the chapter where Milly Molly Mandy is given her own bedroom, her mother and father do not drive to the nearest Ikea and pick up a brand-new, cheaply made and imported bedroom suite that is likely to fall apart within the next five years.

Instead, she keeps the bed she already has, and her Mother dyes the bedspread green “so she has a nice new bedspread”. She also dyes the curtains while she is at it. Grandpa buys a little chest of drawers from the second-hand market, which Uncle paints apple-green. He also paints the frame of an old mirror, to hang on the wall. Finally, Grandma embroiders little birds onto a linen cloth to go on top of the dresser.

Milly Molly Mandy’s bedroom is made all the more special by the love and care that has gone into creating it. Now that it is so cheap and easy to buy everything brand-new, we seem to have lost this ability to repair and refurbish. This book reminds me to think twice before I throw something away and replace it with something new – Can it be fixed? Do I already have something that I can use instead? Do I really need to replace it? If so, can I find one second-hand?

I love being able to share the stories of Milly Molly Mandy with my children, just as my own mother did with me when I was a child. Even she read them when she was young! The stories are as entertaining and relevant today as they were nearly 90 years ago.

Did you read these stories when you were young? Are there any children’s books that have taught you important life lessons? What was your favourite book as a child?

“When can we do the fun stuff?”

Today we went to Hazelhurst Art Gallery in Gymea to see an exhibition of artworks by leading Australian children’s picture book illustrators.

Curator Mike Shuttleworth says Look! gives children a chance to see artwork from their favourite stories up close and explore the process of visual storytelling: “Here are works from Australia’s finest children’s book illustrators. The exquisite images tell many stories, some beautiful, some hilarious, some difficult. They help children to understand their world. They give imaginations fuel to dream.” 

My kids loved wandering around the exhibition, talking about the pictures, asking questions. There was one picture in which the artist had scratched the paint to make the foxes fur look, well, furry. Next to the painting, the artists’ tools were displayed in a box. My kids found this especially fascinating as it gave them a special glimpse into how illustrations can be created. When we got home, Callum stuck a piece of aluminium foil onto paper, then scratched it with a pencil. He said “See, this is what the lady did with the fox!”

In the middle of the space was a big pile of cushions, a cosy armchair and bookshelves displaying all the books from the exhibition. After looking at all the pictures, we sat and read a couple of our favourites, including ‘Love from Grandma’.

As it was the first day of the exhibition, there were a range of special activities for the children, such as short films, book making, craft, drawing lessons, and FACE PAINTING!!  My kids’ love for face painting knows no bounds. Callum actually spent most of the time asking “When can we do the fun stuff? I really want to get my face painted!” So, we made our way to Studio 1, where we found an extremely long queue leading to a surprisingly calm looking face painter. After asking the kids if they reeeeeally wanted to have their faces painted (I know, stupid question), we lined up, and lined up, and lined up…for 90 minutes! This was a lady who clearly took her job as a painter of faces seriously. (see results below)

In the end, I took my tired little puppy, kitten and vampire (!?) home for lunch and a rest. We didn’t have long as my kitten had a McDonald’s party to go to.

So, if you’re in the area, and are looking for a free, fun experience for your kids these school holidays, I would highly recommend the LOOK! exhibition.

Image at top: Elizabeth Honey, illustration from I’m Still Awake, Still, music by Sue Johnson, Allen & Unwin, 2008, gouache on paper

Teaching your child to read.

Lately, Callum has been showing such an interest in letter and sounds. He says things like “Pirates use an X to mark the spot, and a boy at my kindy has an X because his name is Max” and “if you turn a W on the side and draw a line, it makes a B”.

This is the perfect time to nurture his interest with lots of language and literacy experiences.

We have been:-

  • Writing a range of signs, lists, directions, labels, maps and stories
  • Making ‘words’ with the alphabet magnets we have displayed on the fridge
  • Reading lots of books with simple, predictive text, such as ‘Dog in, cat out’
  • Thinking of words that begin with the letter that designates our car parking space at the shopping centre
  • Playing with alphabet puzzles and games
  • Visiting the library
  • Writing letters in the flour on the kitchen bench
  • Talking about the letters we see in street signs
  • Making letters out of play dough
  • Singing funny, made up songs which contain letter sounds, such as “L L Lucie, L L Loves, L L Licking, L L Lollipops”.

Literacy learning experiences can be found absolutely everywhere, and you do not have to spend a fortune (no matter what the toy catalogues tell you!) If your child is showing an interest in letters and sounds, then they are ready to take those first steps on the path to reading. Just remember to keep it relaxed, positive and fun!

Hmmm…how did he learn that!?

We have all been struck down by the dreaded lurgy. It has been handed from one family member to another like a germ-filled ‘pass the parcel’. I know I’m always telling my kids to share; now I know they’ve been listening! And they’ve given it to me!!! Bleaugh…cough..cough…!!

On Saturday, as I was lying in bed, Barry came in and said “The kids are watching a movie. I’m just going to sneak out and get them each a Happy Meal”. I knew there was a reason I married that man! I would have kissed him if he’d been brave enough to get any closer.

While he was out, Callum also paid me a visit. That boy needs constant feeding and he wanted a biscuit. Now. Without wanting to spoil the surprise that was on it’s way home as we spoke, I said he’d be having lunch very soon. He then tried to explain to me, very patiently, what would happen if I didn’t give him a biscuit. (see video below)

Just for the record, I have always prided myself on being consistent and reasonable when it comes to whinging. I have been well aware of the dangers of rewarding this type of behaviour. I don’t give in, even when I have been in the middle of the supermarket with a screaming toddler. I am calm (outwardly!), I am firm. I am understanding (“Yes, I understand you want it, but you’re not getting it”.)

And yet, here I am with a four year old who clearly knows how ‘pester power’ works.

Maybe I’m not as consistent as I thought!

By the way, he didn’t get the biscuit!

Finding treasures in the garden

This was such a simple activity to pull together, although I had been thinking about it for ages. I wanted to do a ‘treasure hunt’ using things found in the garden, where the children would need to find the leaf or flower that matched the one in their egg box.

In the beginning, I had planned to take photos of things in the garden, print them out, and stick them onto the front of the egg carton.  After a while, I realised that although this may have been the most photogenic option, it was plainly never going to happen. So I just grabbed 3 egg boxes (one for each of my children), went for a quick walk around the garden to find 18 different leaves and flowers and then placed 6  into each box.

I arranged them so that my four year old son had ‘easier’ items, such as coloured flowers (his is the box above), whereas my nearly-8 year old daughter Charlotte had to look carefully at leaves which were quite similar.

Callum managed to find all of his things first (with a little help from Mummy) and was extremely pleased with himself, matching up all of his twin treasures neatly in his egg box.

Charlotte and Lucie took a little longer, and really took their time looking carefully at the leaves, feeling their texture, and talking about where they had seen particular plants. Charlotte had some trouble with her final leaf, so she took it inside and did a leaf rubbing with crayons so she could see the veins clearly. All her idea!

Since playing this game, the children have been saying things like “There’s that tree we have in our garden” and “Feel how soft these petals are”. They are noticing the details in their natural environment which was exactly the objective of the experience.

Funeral for a bird.

We found the dead bird on the front veranda.

He looked like he was just having a rest; eyes open, beautifully speckled feathers lying smooth and velvety.

Callum thought he must have hit his head on the post; Lucie wondered if he had seen the dog and died from a heart attack.

We dug a hole and carefully placed our feathered friend in the cool earth. After covering the hole with dirt, the children decided to mark the ‘grave’ with some carefully chosen stones, and a pink ribbon.

Then they thought it would be appropriate to each say a prayer – Callum’s went “Dear bird, we miss you. I hope you have a good time. Good-bye”.

Children learn from an early age that rituals are used to mark special moments in time, from blowing out the candles on a birthday cake to opening the windows on the advent calendar. On this occasion, the children needed to perform their own little ritual in order to make sense of what had happened to the bird.

They were able to express their thoughts and feelings about death, and seemed perfectly satisfied afterwards that everything had been done properly. They were quite content to know that the little bird was now fluttering around happily in birdy heaven.

Open ended play

We bought this set of blocks for $4 from a shop that sells handmade wooden things such as bowls, toys, dolls houses and rocking horses. They are basically just off cuts that have had the edges smoothed.

They have not been painted, or cut into any particular shapes.

They do not require batteries, or wind up, or make noises.

They are not decorated with pictures of Disney princesses or Buzz Lightyear.

They can be anything that the children want them to be. Today Callum used them to build an airport. Tomorrow they might become a city, or food for the tea-set, or a robot, or a road, or a farm….

Open ended play materials encourage children to make decisions, to be creative, to imagine and to have fun. Open ended toys are simple in their design, and have multiple uses. They tell children that we trust and respect them, and that we believe they are capable of constructing their own play experiences.

Something like a ‘Tickle me Elmo’ toy is not open ended. The child is not required to do anything other than turn it on. It can’t be anything other than Elmo. After the child has watched Elmo do his ‘trick’ a few times he or she will usually become bored and move onto something else. How many times have we bought the latest, expensive toy, only to have the child find more pleasure in playing with the box and wrapping paper?

Have a look around and see what open ended toys you can find. They don’t have to cost much (if any) money, and can also be found in our natural environment. Think about stones and shells on a tray, stacking cups and little toy animals, peg dolls in a shoebox, sheets & blankets draped over a table, leaves in a bowl, big cardboard boxes, play dough and muffin tins…………..the possibilities are endless!

Pick up sticks.

Do you remember the game ‘pick-up-sticks’? You let the sticks fall into a pile, then each person has a turn trying to take away a stick without moving any of the other sticks. Tricky but fun. Anyway, Callum tried to play with his sisters, but ended up just getting frustrated.

When they left, he got busy with his favourite past-time – building stuff!!

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“Right, now those pesky girls have gone, I can finally have some peace! Let’s see, walls, ceiling…”

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“a roof….this is a much better use for these sticks!!”

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“I am concentrating, developing my hand eye coordination, using my creativity and problem-solving skills…”

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“open-ended toys are just the best!!” (well, ok, he didn’t really say that)

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“Now for the finishing touch…I’ll use a ball from the Hungry Hippo game as a door knob”

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The happy face of a little boy who has just had a blast building with sticks!!!

If we give our children the freedom, time and encouragement to explore, they can often come up with way more imaginative ideas than we could ever think of.  Open ended toys allow their ingenuity to shine through.

Copyright (c) 2012, Teaspoons and Tinsel. All rights reserved

Where do dinosaurs hide?

In a dinosaur cave, of course!

I used two cardboard boxes, a few brown towels, black material that I cut with pinking shears for the dinosaurs to hide behind, some leaves from the garden and a handful of popcorn kernels as ‘dinosaur food’. I set it up on a low table for easy access.

We’ll need our torch so we can find them.

Aha! There you are!!

Callum decided that the dinosaurs would need a phone so that they could talk to each other,

and that one would have to stay on the top to keep watch,

and that the dinosaurs would be better standing in a straight line at the front of the cave.

“Let’s keep this dinosaur cave in my room for a day and a day and a day!”

Copyright (c) 2012, Teaspoons and Tinsel. All rights reserved

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