How to encourage a love of reading in children

I was recently privileged to attend a talk by Marilyn Brocklehurst on Creating Readers. And I do mean privileged. To be honest she didn’t look much, sitting at the front of the school hall, bobbed hair and glasses on a chain round her neck looking for all the world like a Librarian, which she is by training. But when she started talking? Golly I was captivated. She spoke with such unending enthusiasm about reading and children’s books, of which she reads about 12000 a year- a copy of every children’s book published annually. The best of these make their way to the shelves of her Norfolk Children’s Book Centre and beyond: they have a truly global customer database.

In addition to reading books, offering feedback to publishers and writers, and supplying countries such as Ethiopia with Children’s Books, Marilyn tours the country- and the World- giving talks on creating readers, and encouraging a lifelong love of reading in children. If you get the chance to hear her speak, do go, and do ask her advice: I am sure that there is nothing she doesn’t know about Children’s Books. But if you are unable, here are some of the pointers on how to encourage a love of reading in children, picked up from Marilyn’s captivating talk.

Essentially it boils down to this: children should be given the opportunity to read for pleasure, from a wide variety of books, as often as they can.

encouraging a love of reading in children

To Create Readers you need to:

Model enthusiasm for reading. Your children learn from you primarily, and from their environment, and so much of the things we learn comes from habitual behaviour. Providing them with a variety of interesting books. Let them see you read. Don’t say things like “Oh I’m terrible when I’m reading a good book!” which associates negative language with the concept of reading.

Offer unfettered choice. This is where libraries are so essential, since most families are not able to buy every book ever printed, and nor should they. Choosing their own books, without parents ‘managing’ their choice, is paramount. Broad choice, variety in type of reading material for example, are important, but so is the comfort of the style of a familiar author.

Support Reading for pleasure: it is not up to us as parents to ‘teach’ our children how to read. A teacher’s job is to teach children to decode the words. But reading at home is essential to “teach” for pure pleasure. If they don’t want to read, read their school book to them. We have no idea why a particular book comes home from school- it may be to build confidence, encourage their skills, a topic that they love.  Why spoil it with correcting words if gist is right. Focus on pleasure of finding details of stories. Don’t make it difficult or embarrassing. Encourage. Give your child time to practice, and support. Always read another book after a Biff book- whilst they are good for consolidation of skills learned, they are very very dull.

Parents have the biggest influence in children’s reading. Children crave our undivided attention, and reading with us offers that. Reading aloud to children is not cheating either: they are still learning. Your child needs to hear how the words come off the page, pronunciation, inflection: they get a rich experience from reading aloud. It helps develop their concentration skills. It gives access to Formal Language- complex structures, clauses, vocabulary. It can often be the case that reading aloud the first few chapters of a book makes the child interested in a book they would otherwise have dismissed. And by the same token, if it is clear that your child is not enjoying a book, let them stop reading. And just because children can read by themselves, it doesn’t mean that you should stop reading with them: read with them for as long as they let you. You will mourn the time when it passes.

Never put picture books away. They are essential for decoding words. Children read from pictures. Chapter books are not complex writing, but a picture book is words and images, which offer a richer reading experience. A book is never “too easy for you”. Never let go of picture books until they do.

 

And if they ask “can we read again?” Do.

 

Kicking at the leaves: Autumn Kids Clothes from House of Fraser

Autumn conjours up pictures of cold, bright days, kicking up leaves in every hue of Umber and Orange and snaffling blackberries still hiding under leaves and getting the juice all over your fingerless gloves. It’s a time of scarves and gilets rather than coats and hats.

Yet for us at DG Cottage, it’s like a switch has been flicked from Indian Summer to Wet British Winter with very little Autumn between the two. The leaves fall from the trees, the colour of bright-burning evening fires, but lay limp and wet underfoot, slippery and without thrill.

Autumn Kids Fashion

So when it came to take photographs of LBG in her fabulous Autumn Kids Clothes from House of Fraser, most of them were taken in the our beautifully made-over Summerhouse than out in the woods owing to the rain. It’s a great spot for relaxing and reading so it’s a good thing that the clothes were comfy: kids need their clothes to keep up with them.

The trousers, though age 6, were a little long in the leg, though they moulded them well, and very large in the waist. I would have preferred an adjustable waist in this age bracket. That said, they are a fabulous colour and the added sparkle makes her very first pair of jeans a winner!

House of Fraser Kids Clothes

The denim shirt works with everything, whether under a cardigan, over a vest or as a jacket: ideal for a little girl who wants to put her own outfits together. She likes the versatility. I like the tailoring, and the simplicity of denim not emblazoned with unnecessary logos and mottos.

And the striped top, by my favourite brand Joules, is comfortable and fun and looks very cute indeed. The fact that you can buy from a variety of brands in one place at House of Fraser is a big draw. Another big draw is the fact that this whole outfit was less than £50, so even DH is happy.

Girls Autumn Fashion Clothes review

 Products featured:

Girls Sparkle Jeans,

Mango Denim Shirt,

Joules striped top

We were invited to try out some clothes from the House of Fraser children’s range for the purposes of writing this review. All opinions and photographs are our own.

Spooky Spiderweb chocolate cake

There are, on average, 90,500 online searches a month  for ‘chocolate cake recipes’, so Waitrose.com have compiled the ULTIMATE collection of chocolate cake recipes in one handy place on their website.

To test how great their recipes are, they challenged me to make one of the online recipes with one proviso: that I used a secret ingredient, which they would supply, in my cake. Not one to turn down chocolate, and having a surfeit of eggs, I was quite happy to see what I could do.

Spooky Spiderweb Chocolate Cake

I am perfectly capable of following recipes, but the one thing that always gets the better of me is the ability to “translate” a recipe cooking instructions to suit the Aga I have in my kitchen. Thus the Mocha Chocolate Torte I made was a touch singed when it came out of the oven, despite me cooking it for less than the recommended time.

Of course most people don’t have Agas and so won’t have this issue. The recipe was easy to follow, though of course needed several bowls as the eggs were separated out, and aside from the singeing, turned out exactly like the picture. I eschewed the raspberries and cream in favour of a ganache topping made to look like a spiderweb, another idea I saw whilst on the Waitrose website, and the inspiration for my use of the Chocolate Coffee Beans that were my secret ingredient. It turns out that they make perfect spiders.

The ganache was made by melting 120g of dark chocolate with 120ml of cream over a low heat (this is where the Aga excels) and leaving briefly to cool before pouring over the cake and smoothing out. Meanwhile I melted 20g of white chocolate and put it into a small ziplock bag which I snipped a very narrow corner off. This meant I could quickly and easily pipe concentric circles around the iced cake, starting at the centre. Once done, I used the flat side of a knife to drag out lines from the centre to the edge, all the way around the cake, creating the spiderweb effect.

Spiderweb Chocolate Torte

The remainder of the white chocolate was used to dot “eyes” onto the chocolate beans. I left these to dry then pressed them into the icing, using chocolate vermicelli strands for legs. Slightly fiddly of course, but a pair of tweezers works well, or a steady hand. These would look just as good on small cupcakes with piped spiderwebs too.

*Disclosure: Waitrose.com supplied the ingredients for the purposes of me making the case and writing the post. It’s delicious by the way. Even slightly singed.

Simple Halloween party ideas

It is surprisingly easy to put together a Halloween party, even if you weren’t planning one. We certainly weren’t when The Girls insisted we have one last October half-term when we were in Belgium. They do say that necessity is the mother of invention, so here are a few simple Halloween party ideas that we used.

 

A party needs three things:

1. food

2. activities

3. dressing up.

easy Halloween party ideas

For some parties, Dressing Up may just be putting on your best dress. In this case though, I had to conjure up costumes: a cat and dog. A pair of tights, one leg tucked into the other, and fixed to the waist-band of the skirt or shorts being worn made a great tail. I luckily packed the ear headbands, but it would be just as easy to affix paper ears to a regular headband (which I had to do later in the day when it was discovered that a pair of ears had been lost.) And I made good use of the eyeliner pencil I bought with me- the only time it was used on holiday- to add face make-up. I’m never doing it again though- how old does my then-five-year-old look?

easy halloween costume

The Activities required some thought, a lot of paper and some scissors. I came up with a programme of events, and worked a reasonable amount of Halloween-themeing into them without making them too scary.

Scavenger Hunt: I made a list of the common Halloween Motifs and had the girls go and hunt for them. Some things I found around the house where we were staying but the rest I made from good old paper and scissors. The spider’s webs are much like paper snowflakes to make, and a paper chain of ghosts needed little work beyond adding detail with a marker. I admit the skeleton may look tricky but it just took a paper plate, plenty of strips of paper and a vague idea of what a skeleton should look like!

Make Daddy into a Mummy: the classic game just needs a toilet roll and a willing mummy. In this case Daddy was the obvious choice.

Apple Bobbing: I haven’t played this since I attended birthday parties as a child. Apple bobbing was usually followed by bobbing for sweets in flour so that you end up with very messy faces. But we started with simple bobbing for apples in a bowlful of water. Again, as I was taking pictures, Daddy had to show them how to do it!

Treasure Hunt: I wrote out rhyming clues that ultimately led the girls back to the kitchen for their Halloween Reward: an edible spider, which took care of the Food element of the party. In reality the spider is a chocolate coin (unwrapped of course) with a few chocolate sticks for legs. I secured the whole thing to the plate with chocolate sauce.

Hot Chocolate: Daddy lit a fire and we all snuggled and drank hot chocolate as they sky got dark, and the cat and dog lapped it up!

halloween party ideas

Proof positive that parties don’t have to be big or fancy or complicated to be fun!

 

Duck Tape Pinboard Makeover

Simple pinboard makeoverYou will have seen that we’ve been turning our summerhouse into a Clubhouse for The Girls so they have a space to call their own as they grow. DH gave our new summerhouse a Shabby Chic makeover during the summer and I’ve been accessorising since.

We added a fabulous Fairtrade rug for card games, as well as a little bookcase I bought via eBay. I added a few twinkly battery-operated lights too, so we could enjoy autumn evenings out there reading.

One of the big changes DH made was to build a fold-down workbench so that the girls could sit and draw and colour and create. But they have had nowhere to display the art work they created.

I measured the gaps between the wall struts and ordered three inexpensive 60cm x 40cm pinboards to fit in the spaces. But I wanted to give them a bit of a lift, something that would fit with the feel of the Clubhouse. So I was delighted when Lidl was selling rolls and rolls of fun patterned Duck Tape a few weeks ago. I bought three rolls, knowing that it would be perfect.

paisley pinboard duck tape makeover

And it was: I covered the frames of two of the boards, and had all three hung in under half an hour. A cheap and cute solution to art display problem!

duct tape pinboards

**the tape did peel away from the wood frame a bit. With one board I found that a simple firm press was all that was needed to adhere the tape. With the other, I secured the edges with the glue gun.

Getting organised for the New School Year #LOVEstationery

I have declared a break with convention in the DG home.

Rather than follow the more conventional calendar that runs from January to December, I will operate a calendar that follows the Academic year, from September through to August. It is such a frustration to receive the year’s events for the diary in September and then find I have to transfer all this data from one diary to another only three months or so later. Thus I am getting organised for the New School Year.

Handy therefore that I am now a fully fledged member of an Elite group of bloggers bound forever in a circle of love and trust over their obsession with stationery: the #LOVEstationery Bloggers.

LOVEStationery

I have loved stationery since I was first issued a Stationery slip at Prep School and got to visit what can only be described as a Santa’s Grotto of wonderment, smelling of fresh paper and sharp pencils. It was probably no more than a cellar cupboard but my goodness it became my personal Mecca. For how could you fail to be organised when you had a brand new pack of narrow-lined paper and a dozen razor sharp HBs to do your bidding?

Indeed my organisational skills, honed in the grey and despairing slopes of the Yorkshire Dales (bear with me: I’m getting caught up in Romanticising stationery here) has been one of my strongest CV skills. Pre-childbearing I was able to hold my  calendar in my head, know where I was supposed to be- an when- on any given date. Even with DH added to the mix, and my various charges, I was a walking Almanac. But the childbearing years, the dog and the chickens, have all taken a toll on my timetable and now that Dimples has headed off to school I’m afraid my brain is fried.

So when Bureau Direct came calling with their #LOVEStationery blogger outreach I pounced on them. And now I get to pick something every month from their amazing online range of stationery to choose to test out and give my honest feedback on. I’m part of a team, so follow the hashtag to see what we’ve all been reviewing.

Quo Vadis Septanote review

In my case, I chose the Quo Vadis Septanote** Diary in a fabulous azure blue colour. It has a week on a double page spread, each day broken down into times, with additional areas across the pages for notes and jottings. The paper diary refill fits flush with the pretty cover and the whole thing feels very sophisticated, so it’s perfect to sit on my kitchen table for everyone in the family to jot their appointments in. It has teeny tiny perforated corners to tear off so that you always know which page you are up to- though I have yet to master the Art of Neat Tearing. And at the back of the diary is a slew of pages for notes, the 2015/16 year-at-a-glance pages- so essential for forward planning, along with world maps, International Dialling codes and time zones which have fascinated The Girls.

An added bonus is the address book insert, which allows me to keep note of new addresses, emails and numbers that I need for daily life but don’t need to put in my address book. You cannot help but feel like life is under control with this in your hand! Because it’s refillable, it represents good value, even before you add the £24.95 price tag.

LOVEStationery Bureau Direct review

** The Septanote is currently not available online for you to look at, but the 2015 Quo Vadis Prenote has just come in and it is identical in terms of layout, design and price.**

Also included, an unexpected gift, was the Papelote notebook strap in pink, A5, which fits around the diary perfectly and is ideal for ensuring that I have pencil, pen and highlighter ready for use at all times.

And if you want to #LOVEStationery,  sign up to the Bureau Direct newsletter delivered each Wednesday to your inbox.  An exclusive 10% discount code is shared on the first Wednesday of each month, so it’s absolutely worth the seconds it takes to sign up.

Is this what grief feels like? #startingschool

For six years I have had two shadows that weave in and out of my legs, follow me though the house- chattering endlessly- as I cook and clean and launder. They have grown like weeds and their combined force edges me out of my own bed, pushes me to the far end of the sofa, nudges me out of the warm spot in front of the fire.

For six years I have lived at the centre of a cyclone, a chaos, a maelstrom of sound and activity and exponential growth. For six years our family has grown from silence to activity, from one to two, from there to here.

Each weekend is a flurry of noise and events. There are presents to wrap for parties, hockey club and dog walking, homework and card-writing, ballet practice and card games. There are endless car journeys with pop music turned up as loud as is allowed. There is the noise and chaos you would expect of a family with two small girls, a dog and seven chickens. It’s no great surprise, though a source of great frustration, that DH retires so frequently to the woods with his chainsaw. I imagine the sound of a petrol-driven motor is actually soothing when compared with the Glee soundtrack played full volume.

Yet more noise on Monday morning when my alarm wakes me at 6.20am and I spend a frantic hour juggling girls and games kit and dog and breakfast whilst drinking coffee and wishing the bathroom guys would hurry up and put the shower in already. DH quietly disappearing to work whilst I cajole children into uniforms, hair into bunches and snacks into named bags. Then I load the girls and the school bags and the games kit, the drinks cups filled with hot chocolate and the handbag filled with whatever the children don’t want to carry, into the car and we set off for school.

But once they are safely deposited in Early Room with bags and kisses and the promise of something nice for snacks, what is there?

I walk out of the school gates unable to shake the feeling that I have forgotten something vital, my pace far slower on exit than arrival. As I get into the car my eyes fill with tears. I wonder, how is it possible that no-one else has noticed the gaping chasm in my chest where my heart should be? It must be gone because suddenly there is silence where once there was noise. The emptiness throbs in my ears, my lungs, my chest. No music, regardless of genre or volume, can mask it.

I walk the aisles of the supermarket, listlessly putting items in the trolley and it follows me. I look behind me frequently, convinced that I have lost something essential.

I have lost a child, a toddler, a precious baby that snuggled and grunted on my chest whilst it slept.

When she is returned to me in thirteen years she will not be the baby that called my name to come and fight the dark of night on her behalf. She will not need the magic of kisses on scraped knees or the soothing of feelings hurt in the playground. She will not watch whilst I clean up spilled milk and make her a fresh one- “in a cup with a lid full up to the top, and don’t forget to dry it all over!”

She will be a champion, a rock-star. She will know who she is and what she wants from this world in which we live. She will slay her own dragons, carve her own path, walk the world strong and tall and away into the distance.

And I will stay behind and watch her go. Proud and devastated. Much as I am now.

Though hopefully better prepared.