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Ben

Supercharge your storytelling skills with a free eBook on how to maximise your ability to make a tale come to life. Make your kids' dreams reality and become the master story teller. Join in the discussion and share experiences and stories. Be they bedtime or any time, stories are the way to our children's hearts and minds. Spend a little time and become the amazing story teller that everyone wants to sit next to. Just like the one in the memory of your own childhood.

Aug 212013
 

How to make storytelling interactive

Thanks to a recent reader question about what techniques are there for making stories interactive, I have a new article to publish for the first time in ages! Thank you whoever you are for asking me and I hope this answers your question (sadly their supplied email address bounced).

Making stories interactive is an interesting topic and one I try hard to do all the time. In the purest sense, you can make your stories interactive by delivering them in an engaging way.

Punch and Judy is a classic interactive story

Using facial gestures, tones and moving about, you keep your audience interacting with you: watch their faces, their body language and eyes because they’re telling you that they’re involved (or not) in your story.

Some articles on interactive storytelling

If you want to get them physically involved and “interacting” with the story, then check out the following two articles and try out some of the suggestions:

http://kidmunication.com/telling-stories/telling-childrens-stories-using-storysacks/

This article is all about the concept of story sacks: a “sack” or bag containing props and devices relevant to the story that the children can bring out to use at certain relevant points during the story.

http://kidmunication.com/telling-stories/story-cubes-creating-stories-with-your-children/

Story cubes are effectively picture dice invented by a clever chap in Ireland and which is now doing extremely well which is awesome. Roll the dice and use the pictures to create a story between you. We took some on a family holiday earlier this year and kept us amused and quiet (well, apart from the occasional squeal of delight from my daughter) on the plane on the way out.

Top ideas for making your stories interactive

Other ways you can get your audience involved:

  • Ask them what happens next! They’ll give you something and you can work that into the story. Start with characters’ names and then move on to items, then events and emotions.
  • Play games like Chinese whispers to help children discover how a story can evolve from a simple sentence – people love stories and we like things to be in a nice narrative order so start the whisper with something that is not straight forward to understand or is out of context – those that don’t hear it quite right will fill the blanks with stuff that makes sense in a narrative format.
  • Dress up. Get the kids to dress up and play characters from the story. For older children, you could even get them to act out the parts.
  • Also for older children, you can get them to read character’s lines from a book and then encourage them to use some of the story telling techniques you know to bring it to life rather than read dead-pan from the book.
  • With younger kids who can’t read yet, try giving them musical instruments or sound producing things that they can shake, rub, rattle or blow to indicate various things happening in the story (wind blowing in the trees, the bark of a dog etc.)
  • If you have a small group, you could take them on a story walk and take them around a location telling the story as you go and winding bits of the things and places you see on the walk into the story. Think of tourist walking tours in places like London where you can have a “Ghosts of Whitechapel” walking tour.
  • If you’re reading to your child in bed, you can give them a squeeze at the right moment or grab their toe when the stinagling starts climbing up their leg.
You can make stories interactive in a million ways. You just have to start somewhere and I completely understand how, with a million possibilities, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed with choice.
For me, the secret is planning: I choose two ways I’m going to try (and remember your audience may not want to interact with the story and that’s OK) and encourage them to interact with me and the story. It doesn’t always work but that’s OK, next time I’ll try something else!
Apr 012013
 

Horror! My daughter has poor working memory

Apparently my 6 year old daughter has a poor working memory and this is holding her back in her class at school and has the potential to impact her entire schooling career.

At a parent/teacher meeting a little before Christmas, my daughter’s teacher said that she was very much behind the other children in her class. She struggles with group activities and hides behind the abilities of her peers. Finally, she dropped the bomb shell “There may be something wrong with her and we’d like your permission to put her on a watch list”.

WHAT!? Apart from being very unhelpful just to say “there may be something wrong with your daughter” and not to mention that this is the first anyone has mentioned about Olivia having a problem, where’s the help!? Where’s the advice for her parents to help her!?

After I’d had a chance to calm down I did some research and found that it’s actually fairly common and I even noticed some of the struggles I’ve had in my own life may well be caused by a poor working memory which also would explain where Olivia got it from as it’s apparently genetic.

What follows is a parcel of the information I found out when researching the possible problem(s) and what I could help do about it.

What is working memory?

Working memory is the kind of mental blank page we use to carry out temporary calculations, ordering and list making in our heads.

  • When we add two numbers together in our heads, we mentally write them down, perform  the calculation and come out with the answer.
  • When counting a scattering of beads, we use working memory to hold in our heads all the beads we’ve already counted so we don’t count them again.
  • It’s where we hold directions someone gives us to get somewhere. “take the second left, then right at the clock tower…”

Working memory shouldn’t be confused with short term memory (though it does use it and they are related) – Working memory allows us to take what’s in our short term memory and manipulate it (e.g. perform calculations, re-order or in some way modify the items in it).

What are the symptoms of poor working memory in children

The following symptoms were suggested on the Parenting Science page on working memory and it was these symptoms that stood out for me with Olivia.

  • Has normal social relationships with peers
    - Olivia has excellent friendships and gets on well with kids of all ages.
  • Is reserved during group activities in the classroom and sometimes fails to answer direct questions
    - This is the big point her teacher raised with us. Olivia really doesn’t participate in class activities.
  • Finds it difficult to follow instructions
    - Olivia can find this very difficult if they involve several non-linear steps
  • Loses track during complicated tasks and may eventually abandon these tasks – Olivia has never got on with jigsaws and even seems to have difficulty in remembering and working out which pieces are corner and edge pieces.
  • Makes place-keeping errors (skipping or repeating steps)
    - This was a classic for Olivia. Ever since she started learning to count, she often accidentally counts things twice or three times or misses items. She also struggles in basic maths such as knowing or being able to work out which number comes between 5 and 7 for example.
  • Shows incomplete recall
    - Something that we’ve been worried about for a while, when asked what she did this morning or yesterday or in fact 10 minutes ago, Olivia will almost always say “I can’t remember”. She might remember bits, but then she makes the rest up and her tales of things that happened or she did yesterday can become the most fantastical stories of adventure and calamity.
  • Appears to be easily distracted, inattentive, or “zoned out”
    - She gets easily discouraged but I’d not say she was inattentive or zoned out, but if she knows she’s going to struggle with something, she’ll give up straight away rather than persevere. Something that I find most distressing after reading about the importance of perseverance in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”.
  • Has trouble with activities that require both storage (remembering) and processing (manipulating information)
    - On another website, I found a very quick adult test for this: without looking at the screen, add 23 and 79 in your head. I spent a good three or so minutes and in the end gave up. My working memory for maths is awful. I find that I can hold the two numbers, but as soon as I add the 3 and the 9 together, I forget what the starting numbers were and have to re-visualise the 23 and 79 but then I’ve lost the 3+9 so have to do that again. Now I’ve lost the originals… repeat and get frustrated.

It is worth pointing out that the web pages (see references at the bottom of this article) suggested that working memory deficiencies may be the underlying cause of other things such as:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) – Can’t sit still? won’t pay attention? Struggles or resists following instructions?
    It is important to point out that working memory can be a symptom or ADHD as well as the other way around, so advice remains to seem appropriate expert help
  • Dyslexia and other learning difficulties – missing words in a sentence while reading? Getting two letters mixed up (my daughter keeps getting “b” and “d” mixed up)?
    In “Understanding working memory” by Gathercole and Alloway (2007) they claim that up to 70% of kids who are diagnosed with learning difficulties have poor working memory capacity.

It is important to point out that poor working memory does not mean the child has a low IQ (phew!). The problem is  that it can look like the child has poor IQ because they struggle to learn without special attention and methods geared towards their needs.

Working memory can also be specific to different sensory channels. For example, a child might be fine remembering and replaying the sequence of visual queues, but given the same queues by sound instead of vision and suddenly they can’t remember it at all. This is why, when you’re playing games and doing exercises specifically to develop and train their working memory (see the section at the bottom of this article) it is especially important that you do so using all their sensory channels (visual, auditory and touch at least) .

What can I do to help my daughter’s working memory

From what I’ve been reading it seems that working memory may or may not be a fixed thing so lets, for the sake of my sanity and the need to feel like I can do something to help my daughter, assume that it isn’t and that with work and practice we can help her.

There are lots of “brain training” type ideas, games, exercises and programs available and the argument that working memory is fixed is based on the idea that while doing the exercises and games will improve the person’s ability to do that exercise or game; it doesn’t seem to extend into other areas of related brain usage.

let’s put that aside for the time being and focus on the exercises and games that may or may not help, because doing something is sure as anything better than doing nothing!

CogMed

CogMed is a computerised training system provided by Pearson that claims to help train children who have poor working memory. In my reading, it came up quite a lot and their website and offerings are specifically dedicated to helping children with working memory difficulties.

While reviews are mixed on it’s effectiveness, there is a deal of research and work going in to it and it may be a good avenue to pursue. I may well give them a ring about my daughter and see what we can do and whether I can afford it.

Exercises and Games to improve working memory

Here are some ideas of games and exercises that I came across or thought of during my research about Olivia’s working memory:

  • I went shopping and I bought…
    In this classic memory game, the 1st person starts the game by saying “I went shopping and I bought one…” and adds something they bought (apple for example). The next person continued with “I went shopping and I bought one apple and two…” and they add the next one. This continues each person reciting all the previous shopping items and then adding the next until they can’ remember. It’s a fun game, especially when you make the things you buy outrageous or fantastical.
  • Pairs
    Another classic memory game where you have a selection of pairs of cards. Shuffle them and spread them out face down. Each person takes turns to turn over two cards with the aim of turning over two matching pairs which you keep and have another go. The winner is the person who has the most pairs. One really fun thing to do is to create your own set focussing on words, letters, numbers or anything else and getting them printed. I use Moo.com as you can order 50 cards with 50 different faces (or 25 if you’re creating a pairs card deck). I saw one set once where the person had had photos of various family members printed on the cards, so it was find two “grannies” or “daddies”. What fun!
  • Circle all the letters/words on a page in 30 seconds
    This one I picked up on the ncld.com website and couldn’t be simpler – grab a newspaper or magazine page and have your child find and circle all the “a” (or any other) letters. Or perhaps circle all the “the”s.
  • The Missing item
    Again, another classic children’s game – get several small items and put them on a tray. Give the child 30 seconds to look at the tray and try and remember all the items on it. Have them close their eyes and you then remove one item. Have them open their eyes and try and remember which item has been removed.

O playing "The Missing Item" with me to help work on her working memory deficiency

  • Repetition
    I didn’t say they’d all be fun but repetition is a child with working memory problems’ best friend. Be it vocabulary, times tables, or the order of the planets, repetition will eventually have the items and order  embedded in their long term memory.
  • Sequence games
    Give the child a series of colours and ask them to recite the order back to you (it helps if you have a good working memory as well, so this is one game that I’ll struggle with). Of course it doesn’t have to be colours. It could be letters, numbers, words etc.

Remember to use all the sensory faculties when helping train their working memory.

  • Make some coloured cards and have your her show them to you in the same order you showed her. Then repeat it verbally without reference to the cards.
  • Have her close her eyes and then ask her to tell you the order in which you touched her (left elbow, top of head, left hand, right foot etc.)

One thing I’m particularly bad at is charting and yet it is a very effective motivator for kids. From this day onwards, I hearby declare that I will be creating a big chart for Olivia to show her progress and allow here to earn gold stars.

Other ways to help improve working memory

  • Diet
    There is much evidence for the goodness of fish oils (Omega 3, 6 and 9) in brain and memory development, so see if you can introduce more oily fish into her diet or perhaps some child friendly supplements (do check that they’re suitable for your child or preferably ask a doctor).
  • Exercise
    There is evidence that the increased blood flow caused by strenuous exercise makes memory more efficient and while I’m not sure about how effective this is, I’m going to be giving it a go by taking Olivia to the park and playing some running around games and then coming back to some memory games and exercises. Every little helps right?
  • Computer games
    The advice on this one was that exploratory and “mission” type games where you have to explore a level and find items to use elsewhere and remember where stuff is can really help train the working memory. I always hated these games as a kid because I was rubbish at them (which, as I have a rubbish working memory, now makes perfect sense!). Monkey Island? Pah!

Since Christmas, O’s school have started extra classes for her and some of her classmates who are likewise behind. It’s actually a great sign that she’s at a good school. We’ve also added (poor sausage) extra maths and english homework to her after class routine as well as weekends. At our parent-teacher meeting in March, her teacher said that she had improved, but that she was merely maintaining her position in relation to the rest of her classmates. That said, several of the other kids have slipped and she’s no longer at the bottom.

It’s hard work for O and for us and I really hope that our perseverance (something that she was also criticised for) pays off for her.

Further reading on working memory in kids

The National Centre for Learning Disabilities has several articles about working memory and the one on helping children with working memory difficulties is one I have used heavily for my research and this article.

The CogMed has lots of stuff about working memory and of course their products, but it is worth a look.

ParentingScience.com had some very interesting stuff and the poor working memory symptom identification points I used above.

I really recommend a good Google on the subject as there are lots of pages out there about it.

Feb 142013
 

A poem from a dad to a daughter for valentines day

As I explained in my Valentine’s poem last year, my Dad was a secret poet and I didn’t find out until after he died so every now and then, I like to do something special for Olivia. Be it drawing a picture and posting it to her or writing and then reading a poem. Below is this year’s attempt at bringing together a game we enjoy playing and referencing places she knows.

It took me an hour to write (on the train from Gravesend to London Waterloo) and I hope it gives you some ideas or the motivation to give it a go yourself. I’m no poet laureate so I hope the effort and personal nature of the poem demonstrates to her that I love her with all my heart.

To Olivia,

From here to the beach at Margate,
(But not stopping there: mustn’t be late!)

Onwards to Paris and further still:
To Italy, Rome and Greece if you will.

On past the place that you love the most:
(that’s Turkey of course and the Turquoise coast)

To Moscow, Berlin and Johannesburg to,
To Canada and Alaska where it’s too cold for you.

To the Moon and back,
And not only that!

Around the Globe, twice
(Or perhaps even thrice!)

To the bottom of the Ocean,
(And that’s a craaazy notion!)

But why all this way?

Why don’t I just say,
I love you how much?

A stick man I drew in my daughters valentine card to accompany the poem to show her just how much her Dad loves her.

I love you this much.

Dad
Xxx

I should explain that Olivia and I have a little game we play in the car or, thinking about it, pretty much any time where one of us will choose a number and say that they love the other that much.

“Olivia?”

“Yes Daddy?”

“I love you 5!”

“I love you 6!”

etc. etc.

It quickly escalates from there with numbers getting bigger and bigger until we get to physical descriptions of space.

“I love you to Turkey! AND back!” (Olivia has had a couple of holidays there and she has a rough idea of where it is and how long it takes to get there)

Eventually we run out of descriptions of things and go totally abstract:

“I love you chocolate buttons!”

“I love you swings!”

It usually ends in fits of giggles and a big hug (assuming we’re not in the car – that would be dangerous…)

If you’ve written a poem or tale for your kids, do share the story in the comments. I’d love to hear what other parents are making of it.

Jan 032013
 

Introducing Religion and Belief Systems to Children

One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is that of knowledge and awareness.

Making sure that our children understand how people in our world differ and what causes this is an important trait that any young person can have.

Although this is a staple, not all parents have the ability to teach this to their children without some help and guidance from external sources.

There are many resources that can help parents teach their children about religion. Whether you want to just give a general overview or go into great depths, there is something out there to make sure that you are able to give you child the knowledge.

There are many different ways to approach this conversation, whether you chose to use books, classes or just have the conversation on your own, there is something for you that will help make this conversation as simple as possible.

Religious symbols, beliefs and morals can be confusing for children

If you are seeking out assistance from either a book, website or class one of the first and most important things you want to do is research.

You want to make sure that the specific organization you are using is not going to emphasis one religion or, even worse; give your children bigoted or racist opinions. You can always read reviews and testimonials. If you want to make your own opinion, it may be a good idea to review the content before sharing it with your child.

Remember, you want to give your child an overall view on religions and ways they differ from one another, so the last thing you want is to have your child become sectarian.

Children’s books about religion

a great source of information on religions and beliefs for children

The Kids book of World Religions by Jennifer Glossop is a great tool for parents explaining religion to a younger group of children (3-9).

The book is well illustrated and takes a light-hearted approach to explaining different types of religious views including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism. Basic information is given on each of these religions (book includes many more).

Information includes basic teaching, sacred places and events, religious leaders and scriptures. The book‘s well- illustrated pages make it exciting for a younger child to follow along.

A great source of Belief System information and diversity for older children

If your audience is a little older, another great book is One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne.

This is another book that shows the differences between major religious groups in our world.

The book will introduce six major groups and dedicates an entire chapter to that one group. This is great for any kids between 7 and 10.

Exploring religions and beliefs with your children

There are many different organisations that can provide religious education to children of all ages and certainly in the UK there is a religious awareness built into all state school run curriculum. My daughter has certainly celebrated several different religious festivals in her first two years at school.

If you chose to teach your children about different belief systems and religions yourself, there are a few ground rules you want to follow in order to make sure you are coming across and indifferent and unbiased to the differences.

It may be a good idea to attend some religious services to give your kids a first hand experience of what happens and use the time and place to explain some of the aspects, totems, idols or tenets of the system. The key is to make it a fun outing rather than an enforced trip. I’m planning on taking my daughter to the local Sheikh temple soon and to show her how generous they are the way they provide free food to visitors and to explain some of what they believe and why.

Make sure you’re as open minded and un-biased as possible when explaining and answering questions.

Children often mimic their parents (we are after all their best role models) so of course, if you hold a certain opinion they will surely follow.

It’s also recommended that with younger children you make them aware of what commonalities different religions have. This will help them understand that even though some aspects of faith are different, often times we have views that are alike.

Since religion is such an important subject, it’s important that you are comfortable with how it is being taught to your child. For an older crowd, many community colleges offer believe system classes that are usually open to people that just want to explore and not necessarily obtain a degree.

These are all great options for those wanting to explore with others since they are all classroom environments.

Budda is a representative of a particular religion. How would you discuss it with your kids?

As you are going through the journey of teaching your child about the different types of religions around the world, it’s important to always remember to approach this with an open mind and allow for your child to explore and ask questions about the different types of faith.

However you decide to introduce them, it’s important that you keep an open mind and leave all prior thoughts and opinions out of the conversation.

You want to make sure that your child feels comfortable and is able to ask any questions they want without feeling bad for asking.

Nov 282012
 

Story Cubes – Have fun creating and telling stories with your kids

Reading children’s stories from books or even reciting them from memory are both excellent ways of sharing stories and making the most of story time but I recently came across a wonderful tool for making story telling a brilliant joint activity for my daughter and me.

I also thought that they’d make excellent Christmas presents for anyone with kids in the 5-10yr old range.

Using Story Cubes to create a children's story on-the-fly and with your kids.

This is my daughter and I creating a story together using the story dice.

Flying back from a business trip to Dublin where I had spent a month working with an insurance company to map their business processes, I had to switch off my iPad for take-off and resorted to picking up the in-flight magazine for the airline.

Flicking through the magazine, I inevitably came across the section for the stuff that you can buy for ridiculous prices while on-board the aircraft. My eye was drawn to a headline piece about an “Irish Success Story” and a whole page dedicated to Rory’s Story Cubes.

A great Christmas gift - Rory's Story Cubes

I was genuinely really excited! The name of the product and the picture alone told me at once that I should buy some (though I must confess to being a cheapskate and taking a photo with my phone so I would remember to buy them from somewhere cheaper than the aeroplane).

What are story dice?

The premise is you have 9 dice each with a different image on each face (making a total of 10 million possible combinations). You roll the dice and start a story with “Once upon a time…” and use the face up images to prompt you with ideas to create a story from scratch.

This will be amazing to share with Olivia! I thought.

Creating a story with my daughter

A week later and I’m sitting down with O to have a go at creating a story. Now, technically, Story Cubes are for ages 6 and up but O has a great imagination and I was keen to have a go at creating a story with her.

The instructions are plain and simple : tell a story based on the images that come up on the cubes. Every story starts “once upon a time…”

So, I roll a dice and immediately Olivia wants to tell a story about a princess called Olivia…

Fair enough.

The first cube shows a flower, so I start talking about how Princess Olivia was walking in her garden in at the palace among all her favourite flowers…

Now it’s O’s turn to roll a cube, and it comes up with the image of fire. Of course this meant that the flower was on fire and the princess was devastated!

What fun and now we’ve had more practice together using the Story Cubes to create fun stories, she’s starting to get the hang of embellishing the story beyond the short and literal interpretation of the image that is displayed.

What’s great is that she really loves playing with them and it’s something that we do together and not only is she learning how to create and tell a story, but we have a laugh about it and I’m getting to practice shaping the stories we make so that they have a better self-contained structure (ie beginning, middle and end).

Experiment and develop your storytelling

For some reason, O and I have taken to rolling one dice at a time and telling the element of the story that corresponds to the image. We end up creating a linear stack of the face up dice along the table and we can look back at the images we used to progress the tale.

So far, we’ve only told stories that last for a single roll of all 9 story dice but there’s nothing to say that we won’t start wrapping around and creating stories that are longer.

This last weekend, Olivia even started adding events and characters outside of the dice and I have a suspicion it won’t be long before we’re wiling away car journey spinning yarns and making up wild and wonderful adventures.

I can’t wait and I can certainly recommend anyone with kids or who has friends with kids to get some of these. Rory has even produced additional sets for different scenarios :

Voyages

Start your stories with “Far, far away…”

The Voyages set of Story Cubes

Actions

Depictions of verbs allowing real adventure stories to be made. Why not combine it with drawing or acting out the story at the same time

The Actions set of Story Cubes
Just before I wrote this article, I rolled the dice and took this photo. What story would you tell from it?

What children's story would you create from this?

Once upon a time…

 

Oct 202012
 

The Importance of Story Time Effectiveness

Parents bring children to story time sessions at libraries for many reasons, just as teachers have many different lessons to teach their class through stories and it is absolutely the responsibility of the storyteller or educator to to get the most out of a story through reading or telling techniques.

I argue this point with my business clients as well as friends, family and even people I don’t really know:

It is not up to the listener to understand the communication – it is up to the communicator to do so in a way that is understood

In more than one book I have read the definition of effective communication as “The response you receive from the other person as a result of your communication.”

So, how do we make sure that our story time is effective?

Choice of story, sufficient preparation, and enthusiasm make for a great story time for all participants.

Reading stories introduces a plethora of ideas to a child.  Also, emotions and thoughts can be (remember that this is entirely at the control of the storyteller) conveyed in easy to understand concepts that helps provide amusement, fascination and fun.

Simply put, telling stories offers a stimulus to a child’s imagination that no other medium can provide.

Making storytelling effective is no mean feat and children are the most vulnerable and least forgiving of poor story telling performance

Let Their Imagination Run Wild!

Imagination must be encouraged to help a child develop into their own person.

Without imagination a child is bound by an environment consisting of only what he can see, hear and touch! This concept sends shudders down my spine at the thought: I imagine it would be much like the experience of those who have been lobotomised.

Telling stories gives a child a chance to unlock a world which has never been seen before, where just about anything is possible.

Imagination enables a child to see vast landscapes, take part in adventures, share people’s life stories and develop a sense of compassion and understanding about the ways in which different people and cultures live.

The best way to provide stimulus for the imagination is to prepare an effective story time and this is accomplished by knowing when to read or tell, knowing your audience and story, using your voice correctly and engaging with the listeners.

When choosing to read or tell there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Personal stories are always a favourite to children and would work well told.
  •  Books that use long, descriptive sentences to tell their stories may not be the best choice for telling simply because remembering would be difficult and much of the story may get lost in the teller’s interpretation. Not to say that it can’t be done, however there is no denying the beauty and poetry of the written word and how it can not only enrich a child’s vocabulary but can train the ear to respond to the rhythm of words.
  • Telling stories should be less complicated with a plot and setting that are easy to comprehend for the listener.
  • Short sentences with a familiar vocabulary should be the focus when telling a story as it makes it easier to understand.

Knowing your audience is also key to story choice.

The story choice should be personal to the reader, something the reader can get behind and enjoy telling just as much as the listener enjoys hearing.

However, the age groups of the audience will influence the choice as well.

  • Preschoolers will have more of a limited vocabulary while school aged children’s knowledge base will be broader and their experience base will be richer.
  • Preschoolers may enjoy shorter stories because keeping their attention can sometimes be a challenge.
  • Suspenseful stories seem to work well for all aged groups because of their ability to grasp attention and hold it.

The voice can also be an effective tool during a story time.  Knowing how to change your voice to capture emotion and rhythm can take practice.  Knowing your story well will help train the voice to react a certain way when trying to convey different feelings or characters.

However knowing your characters well and the story well will prepare the reader to project the most enthusiasm about the story to the listeners while making it easier to comprehend.

Most importantly, engaging with the audience and treating them as equals will encourage their participation in the story time session.

Each child will take from the session what they are ready to on an individual developmental level, making it fun and entertaining for all is up to the educator.

Happy Storytelling!

Aug 142012
 

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy with stories to help children develop cognitive skills

I heard about Bloom’s Taxonomy a while ago and I decided to look into it to see how I could apply it to reading stories with my daughter and try to devise ways of helping her develop her cognitive skills.

I am hoping that this article will give you an insight into what Bloom’s Taxonomy is and provide some simple ways you can use it when reading children’s stories with your kids. Essentially, I’m hoping that by the end of this article you will :

  • Have an idea of what Bloom’s taxonomy is and why it is useful
  • Have some ideas on how you can help your kids build their cognitive skills by using some simple questions when sharing a children’s story together.
As a parent, I want my daughter to be able to think for herself, form and defend opinion and forge her own path in life. Understanding what is involved in performing that kind of attitude and thinking and knowing how to help her develop those abilities is another way I reckon I can do my best as her Dad.

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy is one of the most widely used references in education and, over the years, has even been translated into 22 different languages and is in use around the world.

Psychologist Benjamin S. Bloom was known for contemplating and extensively studying the process of how things worked and this included the process of “thinking”.

He believed that there was specific behaviours that could be noticed and were important in the in the process of learning and in 1956, Bloom’s Taxonomy was created.

There are actually three different domains that make up Bloom’s Taxonomy:

  • Cognitive – Mental skills and Flexibility (Knowledge);
  • Affective – Growth in Feelings or Emotional capacity (Attitude)
  • Psychomotor – Manual or Physical skills (Skills).

Each domain is then segmented into different levels for educational goals and objectives.

The Cognitive Domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy

The “Cognitive” domain is what is focused on when helping children learn how to read and think and this is what teachers put a lot of emphasis on in schools.

It is also the focus of this article and, if people would like to know more, I might follow up with the other domains in separate articles (so please do let me know in the comments).

Bloom’s Cognitive domain focuses on the knowledge, comprehension and critical thinking that a child uses or displays during reading time.

Bloom created six different levels of cognitive learning and suggested that each level must be mastered before the child can move onto the next level.

In the 1990’s, a former student of Bloom’s revised the Taxonomy which brought it into the 21st century and it was again updated in 2001.

The only thing altered in the revision is the names of the levels which now look like this:

Reading childrens stories is an ideal opportunity to explore the concepts and cognitive skills they'll need to develop. Using Bloom's Taxonomy, you can easily structure this development

Every child’s critical and cognitive thinking starts with the lowest level and gradually works up to the highest level

There are definite signs that a child shows when they have mastered each level and there are specific questions that you can ask of your kids which will encourage the mental stimulation needed to obtain the next level.

Here is a quick guide for each level that shows the signs a child might exhibit when they have mastered it and example questions that can be asked to encourage mental growth.

By noticing the child’s reactions and answers you will be able to tell when the child has reached a new level in learning and reward accordingly.

To give us a children’s story base line, I am using Little Red Riding Hood as the example book we’re reading. It is important to note that this applies throughout childhood and adolescence and arguably, we never stop developing these levels, so if you have a 4yr old, a 10yr old or even a stroppy teenager, you can and should still apply all of these idea.

Bloom’s First Level : Remembering

In this level the child will be able to recall basic facts about the book through memorising and be able to answer general questions about the book or objects that are in the book.

Help your kids master the remembering level by asking questions like :

  • Who is Red Riding Hood going to see?
  • What is little Red Riding Hood wearing?
  • What did she have in her basket?

If you were reading the Gruffalo for example, you could encourage them to remember the rhythm and rhyme of the story.

Bloom’s Second Level : Understanding

At this level, our kids will be able to understand the main idea of the book, recognise characters and organise the facts.

Ask questions such as :

  • Why was Little Red Riding Hood walking through the woods?
  • Why did the wolf put on Grandma’s clothes?

These questions will help your child master understanding of the situation and concepts in the book.

Bloom’s Third Level : Applying

At this level, our kids should be able to show that they can use the knowledge and facts acquired from the book and apply it to other situations.

Ask questions such as :

  • Besides going through the woods, how could Little Red Riding Hood have made it to Grandma’s house?
  • Why is it dark in the woods?
  • What would happen if Red Riding hood had gone with a friend?

These kind of how and why and what if questions will encourage your kids to apply what they have learned from other aspects in life equipping them with the ability to do it at any time.

Bloom’s Fourth Level : Analysing

This level encourages the mind of the child to examine the facts of the book, distinguish differences and gather evidence to support what they think.

Questions around the ideas of :

  • Why is walking through the woods alone dangerous
  • If you were Little Red Riding Hood what would you do?

These kind of questions make your child concentrate on the scenario to gather important facts which will lead to a conclusion.

Classroom debates at school are specifically designed to develop this analysis and reasoning ability and having constructive discussions from different positions on a topic is a skill that’s well worth encouraging.

Make a game of it and challenge your kids to argue a counter position to an opinion they hold dear – Why Pop music is a bad influence, or why mobile phones should be banned from use at school for example. Make it fun and tongue-in-cheek (this is very important).

One of the many anti-bullying techniques used in schools in the uk is to have kids arguefroth for and against the motivations of a fictious classroom bully.

Bloom’s Fifth Level : Evaluating

In this level the child will learn how to evaluate the evidence that they use to draw their conclusion and justify or defend their opinion on the story.

To encourage the development of this cognitive skill, ask opinion questions such as :

  • Do you think it was wrong for the wolf to try to trick Little Red Riding Hood?
  • Do you think it what the wolf tried to do was fair?

Get your kids to justify their opinion by asking them why they think it was wrong or fair etc.

For older or moore developed kids: ask them whether they think there were any mistakes or assumptions made by the author (or screen writer if discussing a film). Where there any inconsistencies in the opinions or actions of the characters or story?

For those at exam age, these kinds of critical evaluative discussions often take the form of English or Science homework.

Bloom’s Sixth Level : Creating

In my opinion, this is perhaps the most fun level and because of that I think it’s actually easier than some of the earlier ones.

At this level, our children will be able to gather the information they have learned and create an alternative ending or construct a new scenario for the story.

Encourage the child to write a poem or song from the story or maybe have Little Red Riding Hood on the moon.

It is up to the child’s imagination what they develop from the story because the basis has already been set up through the original story.

I just want to point out that while there are 6 levels, it is in fact a sliding scale and kids will develop different skills at different levels at different times, and you will also notice how each level stacks on top: requiring our children to use the skills developed at the lower levels in order to be able to develop the new ones.

Other bonuses of asking questions about a children’s story you’re reading together

As my daughter and I have discovered, there are all sorts of other bonuses from making this part of story time!

We have great little games where I ask question after question until she makes a big dramatic show and goes “Daddy, enough questions!”.

We make up alternative stories from scratch which leads to all sorts of adventures and games. It also gives me a chance to guide the story to deliver other morals or lessons.

Boring books and stories suddenly become more interesting as you explore possible made up back stories to the characters’ and situations and believe me : your kids will come up with some weird and wacky ideas!

A good Google session will reveal all sorts of articles and resources on this, but don’t get bogged down with trying to learn all there is to know. The best thing you can do for your kids is to learn a little bit and give it a go with them. If you want a quick reference guide, then chthout this PDF which gives both hints at the kinds of words to be using as well as suggested questions and outcomes to aim for when following the taxonomy.

Whatever you do, enjoy story time. It should be fun and not “work” or a chore or else our kids won’t enjoy it. They’ll soon tell you they’ve had enough!

Jul 112012
 

An interview with first time children’s author and illustrator Luke Carr

 

An interview with a new children's book author Luke Carr - he illustrated, wrote and published the book himself

I met Luke mid way round the Tough Mudder course covered in mud and dressed as Luigi from Mario Brothers. It wasn’t until a month later as I discovered that not only is he a very talented illustrator, but he’s also just written and self-published a children’s book!

Luke’s book, Eric the Dragon (remember your manners), has been illustrated and written by himself from scratch.

I caught up with Luke on a Skype video call earlier this week and asked him a few questions about his book, how he came up with the idea (and why) and how he went about getting it printed and into the hands of parents at a local school open day.

Luke is 20 something, lean and obviously goes to the gym regularly. The view of his office/room that the Skype video call gives me shows a large-ish room with the same Ikea furniture that I have and walls covered in drawings and scribbles from the world of comics and his own imagination.

I get the feeling that he and I are going to get along very well.

After a bit of a catch up and discussion about our respective Mudder experiences and whether we’ve been foolish enough to sign up for another (I’m doing one in July and Luke’s probably doing one in November, so : yes we are foolish enough), we start talking about the book (or books as it turned out).

Luke works part time at a local stationer (handy for discounted pencils and art materials!) and part time producing illustrations for a company in Holland along with a bit of graphic design, in  which he has a degree, for companies wanting logos etc.

Ben : So tell us about the book.

Luke : So the first book is finished and that’s gone to print and it’s about Eric the Dragon. And the whole series of books is about kids and bite size lessons. Throughout the story [and indeed all the series as Luke showed me], none of the characters are coloured in.

The idea is to get the children to interact with it and get their colouring pencils out. The way I see it, the more interactive it is, the more likely it is they will remember the lessons.

Ben : Did you do the story as well as the illustration?

Luke : Yeah, I’ve done all of it myself. That’s why it took so long to do!

Ben : How long did it take?

Luke : I’ll be honest, the first picture of Eric the Dragon that I drew wasn’t for the book, it was for a T-shirt design.

Eric the Dragon is Luke Carr's first children's story character and appears in his first self published book "Eric the Dragon"

Ben : So how did Eric get from T-shirt design to the book?

Luke : He was going to be the spear for a load of canvases about three years ago. All about staying young in the head and try to be young and youthful. Life’s a bit too serious sometimes and [Eric] was a split second idea that kind of popped into my head.

Ben : So did [the book] start out being about manners?

Luke : When I put him in the book, I straight away went to “how can I put him in a book? What would be the theme?” It was always going to be for children, but it probably came from my Granddad : My Granddad always used to say to me “manners maketh the man” and in this day and age you’ve got so many kids out there that don’t really get taught and end up as little toe rags. I just thought if I could get the book out to just a handful of children and they learnt something, that’s good.

Ben : Where did you get the inspiration for the books?

Luke : I have a Tips4Tots book [Luke’s own brand for his children’s books which can be found at www.tips4tots.co.uk]. This is where I put everything : Brainstorming, logo ideas… If I start  talking about it and people start giving me ideas, then I start putting them in here. It’s nice to look back and see ideas.

A good bit of inspiration came from the Mr Men books. I think that’s what urged me to make them square. I know it’s like a tiny detail but I used to work at Wilkinson’s and we had a stand full of the Mr Men books and it was really cool to see all the Mr Men books lined up on this spiny turnstyle thing and there was something really cool and it made you want to collect them all.

So the idea for the book is each book is going to be colour coded. So the first one’s green and the next one, along the top, will be “Oliver the Crocodile” and the paint splat behind will be a different colour. So they’ll all be colour coded but they’ll keep the same set up. I drew that from the Mr Men books as well. For me the Mr Men books are very popular. Still! So I wanted to mimic that in a way as well.

When I got the first prints I went into Wilkinson’s and propped them up on the shelf just to see how it looked in the environment it’s going to be in and yeah… It worked. I could just imagine a series of books all different colours but all kind of had the same style. It put a big smile on my face. A big smile on my face!

Ben : What kind of research did you do?

Luke : I was very nieve about it. I just jumped in the deep end and said “let’s make a book.” And then I learnt lessons as I came to the obstacles. Like when I came to the printers to get quotes : they were like “we deal in multiples of 24” or something etc. Then I did some test prints and the bleed line wouldn’t set up properly so pages would be cut off and stuff.

I was like a kid : you give ‘em paints and they don’t stand there putting their apron on and stuff, they jump straight in and get involved! I’m still learning now.

I’ve got little nieces and they did my little trials : I’d FaceTime them and show them stuff and they’d give me a response because I branded the series “Tips4Tots”, so anything I did, I put it past those two and they were awesome they just… Ah children’s English is just different at feedback. They’re better at that, very simple : If they don’t like something they say “nah, no” or if they like something then they want it broken down.

It’s my first book and things will change, but I need to keep that child mentality. The artwork, the artwork is very simple : children look at artwork like that. They like it, they like the little details.

I draw all the time and with the book it’s nice to… It’s not just a picture on the computer : I have a book I can hold now. I have a book I can hand to people and like I said : if it works, it works if it doesn’t, at least I’ve tried.

Ben : So if you don’t mind me asking, how much did it cost?

Luke : For the first set of fifteen books for the [school] open day it was just over fifty pounds [about £3.50 per book] and that was a bargain ‘cause I got quotes on line from different companies and online, the cheapest quote I got for the same amount was just shy of two hundred pounds! When I got the quotes back I was like “£200 for 15 books!!?”

I start thinking in the long run like if I want to mass-produce these things… But then shopping around I found a local printers in Nottingham called John E Wright.

Ben : How did you end up promoting your book at a local school?

Luke : It was all from the stationary shop actually, where I work. A teacher kept coming in and I got talking to her and I managed to get a place on this open day. So I went down, set up my stall and promoted my book. The feedback I got was awesome. Really good.

Ben : What sort of feedback have you had so far?

Luke : I was told by one of the teachers [at the school open day] not to use the word “naughty” in my book. That’s apparently not good. I didn’t know that and to me, its… I don’t see a problem with it.

Ben : Wow that’s a classic word! What do they use to describe a naughty child now!?

Luke : She said “You’re not being sensible”. That was one of them. I can’t remember what the other was.

Ben : So what would you do differently for the next one?

Luke : Again, I’m going to wait for the feedback from the first book. The best thing about it this time is that because the layout’s all set up so it’s 7” by 7” squared, so when I do all the artwork and stuff it’s very much… it’ll be faster, which will give me more time to focus on the quality.

Every two page spread I do, I’ll take that to a group of children rather than just rely on my two little nieces just to get feedback.

At the end of the day, I’m not in it to make a load of money. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in it to make a bit of money but it would help future projects. I like the idea of… I wouldn’t say “helping children”… but giving them a product that maybe helps them in an area. Not like life changing things, just… I don’t know, if they read the book and colour it in and then parents start hearing their kids saying “please” and “thank you” more then that’s mission accomplished. That’s wicked and that’s what I’m all about. And if children brush their teeth more because they’ve read the second book…

Ben : So what’s next?

Luke : It’s getting super busy at the minute, holding a job down and doing this book and doing all the graphic design and illustration for this company in Holland it’s very hard to find time to… take a bit of time to research more. I’m not on a timeframe and I don’t have anybody saying “this book has to be done by this time”.

Maybe that would be a blessing in disguise because the other companies I work for give me deadlines to get it done and because it needs to get done; it gets done. The book and the other one is on the backburner.

Book number two is Oliver the Crocodile (Look After Your Teeth), teaching kids how to look after their teeth and the third book will be the Big Bear, remember to share. Nothing too deep and then the other ones that are big at the moment like recycling.

The thing that pushed me to really get it done is the teacher who got me a spot at this promotion day the other day. It was a couple of months ago and she said “I’ve spoken to the committee and they want you to come and promote your book.” I was like Wohaa! Right! Two months, so let’s do it! And I spent a lot of time drawing and

Ben : Thanks a lot Luke and good luck!

Luke : It’s been a pleasure and I’ll speak to you in the near future.

Luke is working on making online purchases of Eric the Dragon available, but in the mean time, if you’d like a copy, head over to www.tips4tots.co.uk and send him an email and he’ll let you know when the next batch are being printed and what it will cost you for a copy.

Jun 202012
 

Improving children’s literacy through pointing and karaoke style closed captions

My daughter is learning to read and write at school and her teachers have said that she struggles at times and may be a little behind in her literacy.

In an effort to improve her reading and writing skills, I’m obviously spending more time with her practicing writing and reading books, spelling out words and playing I spy.

None of these are easy for my daughter (or me and we’ve had an argument or two about it) and for some reason elephant still starts with an ‘H’…

We can help our kids learn to read by pointing at the words as we read children's stories with them Continue reading »

Jun 122012
 

Making a princess cake from scratch…

This post contains the complete recipe and methods from start to finish that I used to make my daughter’s Princess Birthday cake.

It was a tough challenge to set myself for my daughter’s 5th Birthday party but it meant a lot to her, so it meant a lot to me too.

I know this is completely off topic for this website, but it may be useful/interesting even if it’s only to mock my poor cake decorating skills ;-)

I hunted for a recipe or in fact recipes around the internet and they all either lead to spam sites or overly complex and just-plain-weird sites.

But I did it in the end and it was certainly extremely popular! (One mum even said to me “Ben, you’ve set the bar very high for Birthday parties among Olivia’s friends…”)

 

Making a princess cake from scratch can be difficult. Here's the full recipe to make a beautiful princess birthday cake

I should point out (in case it wasn’t obvious from the photo) that I’m not a professional cake maker; I’m just a regular dad who loves his daughter and loves a challenge :-)

In case you fancied a go at making one too, I brought together several recipes for the different elements for you here on this page (original recipes referenced as well). Continue reading »