Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Flaps, rhymes, transparencies: Appealing fact books for young children

Finn has always been very much into books. He has an extensive and ever growing library of children's fiction and non-fiction books. While he loves stories, he also enjoys books about his favourite topics. He has been asking a lot of questions about various topics and one way to acknowledge his curiosity and respond to it has been to provide him with non-fiction books that specifically address his questionings.
We have been buying our fact books mainly from four children's books collections. Here is an overview of what we especially like about each series.
The "First discovery" books are published by Moonlight publishing in the UK, Gallimard Jeunesse in France, and Scholastic in the US. Follow this link to know more about the books.
These books are simple, short, and suitable for children aged 2.5+ I would say. The illustrations are beautiful and they have transparent pages that add to the appeal. The topics are quite varied: animals, buildings, sports, physics, biology... The simplicity of the information given is a great advantage of this series. The facts are well chosen to appeal to young children, with the last page linking the topic to something real in the child's life to extend the child's learning. We own quite a few of these books, and Finn uses them a lot. They are quite special to me as I had a few as a child.
"My first discoveries" also include Torchlight books. These include a white paper "torch" that you slide underneath a dark page to reveal what lives underground, for example. Extremely appealing to young children!

"Bears," My First Discoveries Books

Finn and I have fallen in love with The Cat in the Hat's learning library books. The well-known character of the Cat in the Hat is a reassuring, friendly figure for a young child, and of course the text rhymes! To me, the rhyming text is the main reason why we keep buying the books. It really flows and is a pleasure to the ears, while at the same time delivering fascinating facts. We have three of these books, "Inside your outside", "Fine Feathered Friends" and "Oh say, Can you say dinosaur". The first two are outstanding in originality and offer many little-known facts while being highly engaging. They are both written by Tish Rabe. "Oh say, can you say, dinosaur" is written by Bonnie Worth. I would say this particular book is not as high quality as the other two. The storyline is not as appealing and there are fewer facts. It's still one of Finn's favourites though!
"Oh say, can you say, dinosaur?" by The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library

Usborne books, in particular the series Look Inside and See Inside, are truly wonderful. Both series are "lift-the-flap" books, each aimed at a particular age group. Look Inside is for children aged 4+ while See Inside is for children aged 6+. With many topics to choose from, funny, honest illustrations, these fact-filled books are irresistible. We go from surprise to surprise with those books; a flap inside a flap, inside a flap? We borrowed "Look Inside your body" from a friend when Finn had an interest in skeletons a few months ago, but he loved it so much we had to buy our own copy. It was his bedtime book for weeks and he asked many questions about all body functions, not just skeletons, which were his original interest. Recently I found several "See inside" books at a charity shop. I bought them all regardless of topic, which has proved the right decision as Finn has been interested in all of them, even when he hadn't shown an interest in the topic before. Pirates, Houses Long ago, Underground, Atlas, The Ocean... The books are so appealing he couldn't resist! The Usborne website has plenty of information about the books available and even includes previews.

"Look Inside Your Body", Usborne
Finally, we turn to "Let's read and find out about Science" books when Finn has a specific question. The most recent example I have is when he asked "Can we make molecules?" I try not to give him definite answers but instead offer him the information he needs to figure it out for himself. The book "What is the world made of, all about solids, liquids and gases" has been perfect to give him an introduction to the facts he needs. Like the Usborne series, they come in two collections; Stage 1 is aimed at preschool children and Stage 2 is for primary age children. The book we have is a Stage 2 book and even though it was made for children a couple of years older than Finn, it seems quite suitable for a child like him who likes to know the details about everything. The book proposes experiments, which really grab Finn's attention and make the topic alive and relevant to him. The amount of subjects covered is mind blowing. They have six different books just about dinosaurs! Each focuses on a more specific topic relating to the dinosaurs. Talk about in-depth exploration!
"What is the world made of?" from the collection Let's Read and Find Out about Science

Which fact books do you like? Do you have any recommendations?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

How long is a year?

How long is a month? A year? When is my birthday? Do you remember when it snowed? How many sleeps until... ?
The passing of time is a difficult notion for little ones to grasp, but essential if they are to exercise some control over their existence. The idea of past, present and future is one that can only be understood through personal experience.
We marked the beginning of 2015 with the introduction of a yearly timeline. Finn had been asking a lot about when Christmas or his birthday would be, so it seemed right to start introducing tools to learn about the passing of time. I found a very good download here but chose to make our labels for days myself as I wanted them to be colourful. Each day has its own colour, which really helps Finn see a pattern when he looks back at past days. Each label simply has the name of one of the seven days of the week handwritten on it.

Every morning, Finn enjoys figuring out what day it is by looking back at the colour pattern and reciting the names of the days. Then we say the date together.

The timeline is very long on purpose, as its length gives the child a visual impression of how long a year is. It covers two of the walls in our bedroom. At the moment it is clearly visible that about half a year has gone by.

We also use the timeline to mark future events like a birthday party, departure for holiday or a relative's birthday so that Finn can easily count the days until the event. I chose to write the description rather than use symbols even though Finn can't read fluently yet. He is curious about writing so this is another opportunity for him to try and decipher.

We store the day labels as well as blank event labels in a compartmented box that is inviting and easy to use. Everything is laminated so that it can be used year after year.
This year I am consciously keeping the timeline simple as Finn is just 3 and a half and it is the first year we have had one. Next year I would like to add photos of events and display them on the wall with a thin line of tape showing the day they were taken. I think adding a new element each year will allow us to keep up with Finn's understanding as well as keeping it interesting for him.  
Do you use a timeline? A weekly/monthly calendar? I'd love to know what other families are doing to help their children understand the concept of time. Please leave a comment!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

With or without Montessori

When Finn was a baby, I enjoyed thinking about how I would set up his Montessori learning space in the future, what kind of activities he would enjoy and whether we would have a reserved time each day for Montessori works. I admired bloggers who managed to set aside 3 hours each day for Montessori, in a beautiful prepared environment, with high quality materials and planned presentations for each child. I never imagined not doing Montessori as it seemed the best educational philosophy, encompassing everything a child needs to grow healthily in mind and body. I could only hope I would be able to pull it off!
As Finn grew up, I offered him the number rods, spindle box, sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet, objects to play I spy and spell, and more. These were specifically to support numeracy and literacy.
He has rarely used them. He has (almost) never used any of those independently, and when I suggest he does, he refuses.
Yet he can count, he can spell and read simple words. I stopped suggesting he uses materials *I* find interesting a while ago, and instead just let him be. I observe him mentally working but still not touching the materials. I frequently hear things like "s-l-u-g. slug" while muttering to himself in bed, or "c-a-s. castle. Mummy how do you spell castle?" The other day he did use the moveable alphabet after he had decided, out of the blue at 10 pm, to spell the word Norway in French (his favourite country). He did a great job. So yes, he has used it, for what must be the first time in six months. He just doesn't seem to have a need for it.
He doesn't use sandpaper letters but he will happily and spontaneously trace whole book titles and ask me for the correct way to do it. He notices how some fonts differ, and I have come to see the benefit of being exposed to many ways of writing early on: a much more rich and interesting experience! I feel he chooses to live in the real world when what I originally offered him was limiting, classroom-type pedagogical materials.
For a few months he has been spontaneously creating his own "author study" by exploring his Roald Dahl audio book collection. First he couldn't go a day without listening to The BFG. He would ask so many questions about unknown words. Always listening intently, fully focused, sitting still for more than an hour. Then he got to Fantastic Mr Fox, again staying with it until he had extracted all useful information from it. Now he is onto The Enormous Crocodile, which he listens to at home, and asks me to read to him as well. I estimate he must have heard the story 20 times in the last 3 weeks, at the very least. I feel this exposes him to a very rich vocabulary. I can definitely observe a sensitive period for language, and Roald Dahl is meeting his needs. If he was going to school/preschool, I doubt he would be exposed to books with such complicated plots and varied, unusual words at his age (3.5 years old), while having enough quiet time to study them deeply.

As for numeracy, his dad and I agree that he doesn't seem to need any specific support. We are not disappointed that he shows no interest in the number rods, intrigued rather, because he shows us everyday that yes, he can count. He can do simple addition and subtraction. He has a good understanding of quantities. He recognises numerals. Most comes from everyday living. Baking, shopping, sharing food, measuring, weighing, building with unit blocks, conversations... He knows what he needs to know right now, which is how it should be.
With or without Montessori.

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