Top 5 Back-to-School Picture Books that Ease Anxiety and Promote a Positive Attitude

 

There is no way around it- whether you have a little one starting school for the first time, or a child heading back to those first few grades, starting school is an anxiety inducer. But your positive attitude towards the situation (and some great picture books) can alleviate the stress and help pump up your child’s confidence and optimism about school.

 

  1. 618RPzbO2WL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Pete the Cat, Rocking in my School Shoes, by Eric Litwin and James Dean https://www.amazon.ca/Pete-Cat-Rocking-School-Shoes/dp/0061910244

This is a fun easy read that shows children there are lots of great spots in school, and it’s ‘all good’!

 

  1.  51q9Smmke-L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes https://www.amazon.ca/Wemberly-Worried-Kevin Henkes/dp/0061857769/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472559642&sr=1-1&keywords=Wemberly+Worried

You think you’re worried about school- well Wemberly worries about everything! How will she handle her first day? This is one of my absolute favorites! It provides support, understanding, encouragement and inspiration.

 

  1. willow_s_whispers.jpg Willow’s Whispers, by Lana Button and Tania Howells https://www.amazon.ca/Willows-Whispers-Lana-Button/dp/1554537444/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560178&sr=1-1&keywords=Willow%27s+Whispers

When Willow is at school her words come out as soft and shy as a secret. But not for long! Willow will inspire young ones to use their own big strong voice in school. This story also builds inclusiveness and empathy for every voice in the class.

 

  1. 61f83lXiPDL._SX439_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Franklin Goes to School by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark https://www.amazon.ca/Franklin-Goes-School-Paulette-Bourgeois/dp/1771380101/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560561&sr=1-1&keywords=franklin+goes+to+school

So many emotions swirling around that first day! Even the children who can’t wait to start might find themselves anxious when it’s time to actually head off. This story allows lots of dialogue regarding the realm of emotions we go through when starting school, and illustrates once more, that we are heading off to a great spot filled with lots of new experiences and adventures.

 

  1. 51n2oEIWNQL._SX495_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers https://www.amazon.ca/Day-Crayons-Quit-Drew-Daywalt/dp/0399255370/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560981&sr=1-1&keywords=the+day+the+crayons+quit

…because, hey, when you’re anxious, you need a good laugh! And I love the message that we have the freedom to think outside the box and create new and exciting things— that’s the fresh start opportunity waiting for your child at school— like a brand new box of crayons!

 

So listen to your child when they tell you about their back-to-school anxieties. Don’t dismiss those feelings. Acknowledge that these are very understandable emotions that will go away in time. And fess up to your child that many of us are feeling the same way during this annual stress-filled transition. But while you remain supportive, concentrate your words, your body language and your attitude on the positive exciting aspects and opportunities of school. Hang on! In a few weeks, we will all be in the swing of things!

 

 

 

THIS is How You STOP Bullying!

STOP Bullying?

Willow Finds a Way

Stop bullying. Stamp out bullying. Stand up to bullying. We all want it. The Ontario Ministry of Education declares the week of  Nov. 15-21st to be Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/safeschools/prevention.html During this time we are sure to see lots of slogans and calls to action to ‘stand up to the bully’. But if we really want to stop bullying, here’s where we start-

Stop Labeling Children-We need to ban the bully label in our schools! A child will become the label you give them. When examining an inappropriate social situation, we need to look at what has happened and who is involved. But when we label a child, “You are a bully,” that child can take on this character, and live up to that expectation.

Yes- we need to stop hurtful behaviour. Yes- anyone who is victimized absolutely needs to be heard, understood, and protected against further abuse. But in order to stop conflict from re-occurring we must recognize that each child in the scenario is an individual who is struggling.

I’d like to point out that my picture book; Willow Finds a Way (Kids Can Press, 2013) is often described as an anti-bullying book. It is on Publisher’s Weekly’s List of Anti-Bullying Books and is on the Canadian Children Book Centre’s List of Books for Pink Shirt Day. But the word ‘bully’ is never used in the story. You can acknowledge inappropriate actions without placing labels on a child.

That kid you are calling ‘a bully’ needs help-If we want to stop bullying we need to acknowledge that the child acting aggressively or in a hurtful manner to others is an individual who needs and deserves help in recognizing their behaviour as hurtful and then given tools to help change that behavior. If we label a child as a ‘bully’ and teach everyone else how to stand up to that child and stay away from that child, we are giving up on that child. The bullying will only continue because that is what that child knows. This is not only hurtful to that child’s peers but is also hurtful to the child who needs and deserves guidance in acting appropriately. We are constantly preaching to children how to put out the fire of bullying, without trying to figure out where the fire is coming from.

If we are successful in helping a child understand that in a particular situation, they acted inappropriately, and we then give that child tools to change that behavior, strategies to try, different words to use, then we stop bullying.

In “Willow Finds a Way”, Kristabelle creates a list of all the children who can come to her birthday party. Everyone is invited. But then Kristabelle begins ruling the class, crossing names off her list if anyone crosses her.

Why? Kristabelle is a child desperate for friends. But she’s going about it the wrong way. She needs help. Whenever possible, we need to find out why a child acts out in a hurtful way to others. Is it because they lack impulse control? Does it stem from anxiety? Or is this child’s ability to perceive how others are feeling (empathy) not as developed as it should be? These are not easy fixes. They require dedication, commitment, understanding and consistency on the part of adults working with young children. But if you can help a child act in a more socially acceptable manner you not only stop the bullying, you also help that child lead a more successful social life.

Find the Root Cause According to Robin Rettman, Director of Research and Communications for CPI, an international training organization committed to best practices and safe behavior management methods that focus on prevention, and the editor of the Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior and the Supportive Stance, bullying is a learned behavior. In his article, “What to Say to Stop Someone From Bullying” http://www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/October-2015/Stop-Bullying Rettman states that, in every situation there is a root cause for inappropriate behavior. It’s our job, as educators, to figure out what that is. In Willow Finds a Way, Kristabelle wants friends.

What is the Child Gaining from This Behaviour? There is a function that this behaviour is serving for the child, according to Rettman. They are getting something out of it. Is it a feeling of control when they often feel out of control? Whatever it is, we need to find out. In Willow Finds a Way, everyone is doing exactly what Kristabelle tells them to do when she threatens them. She perceives this as having friends.

Develop Replacement Behaviors– Children are developing social skills as they mature. It is common for children to have an immature perception of what they need. Sometimes they learn inappropriate behaviours that appear to be helping them succeed at reaching their perceived need- their goal. If a child has learned an inappropriate way to get what they want, and doesn’t or can’t acknowledge that it is wrong, that these behaviors are harming others, then we need to step in and help them establish different behaviours. Rettman refers to these as replacement behaviors. In Willow Finds a Way, Willow gets the message across to Kristabelle that when she acts in a mean, threatening, demanding way she won’t have friends. But when given the chance, Kristabelle learns new behaviors that include genuine apologizing and inclusion, that allow her to experience the rewards of true friendships. As educators we need to allow children to move past their inappropriate behavior and help them develop new words, new actions and new behaviors that help them achieve healthy social goals.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could solve every problem within the pages of a picture book. This is not easy work. In my more than 25 years as an educator I find teaching empathy to a child who does not naturally obtain it to be one of the biggest challenges- but one of the most important! Picture books, like Willow Finds a Way, can help in this effort, as they speak to the child in a scenario they relate to. They can spark conversation, can be the springboard for setting new goals, and can inspire a feeling of hope and a desire for change. Every child is worth the effort.

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https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/willow-finds-a-way/9781554538423-item.html

Picture Books that Can Start a Conversation about Depression

Like the rest of the world, I am so saddened by the death of Robin Williams. He brought us so much joy and laughter. It’s heartbreaking to think of the suffering he endured through his battle with depression.
What more can be done to help people overcome this silent torture? For those of us who suffer, please try, a little harder, to talk about it. Your loved ones want so badly to help you. We just can’t see the inner torture that you are sometimes so good at hiding.
And for the rest of us, we need to listen- harder. We need to empathize. We need to rid the world of the negative stigma attached to mental health issues.
Let’s raise a generation who doesn’t judge and ridicule those who suffer, but strives to lend support and understanding. Here is a collection of picture books that can open the doors of communication with young ones dealing with depressed feelings, or living with someone who is feeling depressed.

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear (Kids Can Press, 2012 )     Unknown copy
is an incredible story about Vanessa and her sister, Virginia, who is in a ‘wolfish mood’. The story, loosely based on the relationship between author Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, not only illustrates the strong hold that depression can take on an individual, it also describes the desperation others feel in an effort to ‘cheer their loved one up.’ Vanessa says, “the whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim.” The words and the illustrations provide literal and metaphorical glimpses into the effects that real depression can have on an individual and on those who love her.
Kirkus said in its review that the story “works beautifully as a bad-day/bad-mood or animal-transformation tale, while readers who know actual depression will find it handled with tenderly forceful aplomb.”

Frog is Sad by Max Velthuijs (Random house UK, 2014)       076457499X.01._AA100_PU_PU-5_

Frog wakes up one morning feeling sad, but he’s not sure why. His friends try a variety of things to cheer him up, and eventually his sadness is gone. This story acknowledges that when a person is depressed there often isn’t a ‘reason’ for them being sad. They just are.

When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang (Scholastic, 1999)              Unknown-1
In this story Sophie isn’t sad, she’s really, really angry. The words and the illustrations do a terrific job in getting these powerful emotions across to young children. What I love about this story is that it doesn’t apologize for raw emotions. And eventually Sophie is able to get ahold of those emotions. She’s given time and space to work through the emotions. And her family is there with love and support when she is able to return to them.

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard (Scholastic, 2007)                 Unknown-3
Bird wakes up grumpy. Too grumpy to eat, play—or even fly. “Looks like I’m walking today,” says Bird grumpily.”
His friends join him in his walk. And somewhere along the way Bird realizes that his friends have stuck with him and his grumpy mood is gone. I love that the friends in the story don’t try to ‘fix the problem’ with a variety of suggestions or reasons for Bird not to be grumpy. They just walk with him, supporting him until the mood lifts.

It’s not our job to make children sad. It’s not our job to overwhelm them with scary information on a disease they can’t fix. But it is our job to teach our children that our emotions can be very powerful. And we deal with those emotions by both seeking and giving understanding and support. And I believe a great picture book can help start that conversation.

Getting Dressed to Go Outside- Stories to Support this Valuable Part of Kindergarten!

A Toronto elementary school is considering canceling mid-morning and afternoon recess for full-day kindergarten because they say that class time is wasted while kids get dressed and undressed. Their concern is that they are losing  “40 minutes of instruction time” each day because it takes “too long for kids to get into snowsuits.”

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/12/17/cancelled_recess_at_davisville_school_to_be_reviewed.html

As I shake my head I have to wonder- apart from having these children at school all day every day, how much of the FDK program is this school following? I am an early childhood educator with over 20 years experience working with young children. I have been working in full day kindergarten for 4 years. And don’t get me wrong- as soon as those snow pants come out, the transition from outdoor to indoor is my least favorite part of the day. But I understand that it is a fundamental part of the day!

And I can’t quite get my head around the term ‘instruction time” as the FDK program is an inquiry based program in which children learn through active engagement in meaningful activities. Children who get dressed and undressed in winter gear are actively engaged in the full day kindergarten curriculum. It allows for much needed physical activity once outside (don’t even get me started the recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity for children who spend a good chunk of their waking hours at school, or the valuable experience of engaging in outdoor play!!). The actual act of getting ready to go outside involves desperately needed exercise in fine motor control, and it develops imperative personal, social and emotional skills.

  • Think of it as Kindergarten Occupational Therapy! As an early childhood educator, I can tell you that many children in kindergarten lack the strength in their hands to not only perform necessary self-help skills such as putting on their shoes, but also lack the strength required to hold a writing tool properly, or bear down on a writing tool in order to print with success. Children will be more successful in academics if we give them the time and space to work those small muscles in their hands, and putting on and taking off all those clothes is an excellent way to do it!
  • It’s a Valuable Exercise in Self-Regulation  As children get themselves dressed and undressed in winter gear they are actively engaged in developing independence, self-regulation and responsibility. Children in full day kindergarten are expected to demonstrate independence, self-regulation, and a willingness to take responsibility in learning and other activities. They are expected to demonstrate self-reliance, and a sense of responsibility, as well as take care of their personal belongings. Every time children get dressed or undressed from all that snow gear they exercise these skills. BUT…in order for children to be successful the adults in the room need to give each child space, time and encouragement when it comes to maneuvering their young bodies into snow pants, boots, coats, mitts, neck warmers and hats. It’s a daunting task for sure, when a young child stares at that pile of winter items she needs to put on herself. No wonder there are so many meltdowns! But as adults we need to be patient and allow children time and space. We are not doing it for them. But we are encouraging them! It is so important that our expression and demeanour be one of patience and encouragement. This is hard work! We must not make these children feel that they are infringing on our schedule, or ‘wasting instruction time’. “Let me show you the firefighter flip. Why don’t you try spreading your snow pants out and then scooting into them…etc” My teaching partner and I invite the children to find a spot in the classroom to spread out their things when getting dressed. Split the duty, so that one adult takes out the children who are dressed, while the other adults stay with the children still dressing. This cuts down on frustration and behaviours from those poor kids who are ready and roasting in their gear.

You might even want to take some pictures of this dressing process and create a class visual schedule of getting dressed in the proper order.

  • It’s a Terrific Activity for Interacting Cooperatively  Children in full day kindergarten are expected to develop the social skill of offering and accepting help in group situations. This lifelong skill is exercised every time a class of young children gets dressed together. The adults encourage children to help their peers, whether it be to demonstrate the ‘firefighter flip’, help find a lost mitten or assist in zipping a coat. Don’t look at this as a waste of time! Put the watch away and give these children lots of time and encouragement and you will see that getting dressed to go outside can be a positive activity in community building.
  • Set the Stage for Success  Although we want children to dress and undress independently we need to recognize their limitations. Sometimes children arrive at school with the cuff of their coat bound so tightly around their mitten that I have a hard time undoing that Velcro! And that elastic on the bottom of snow pants is extremely tight. Many 4 year-old fingers are just not strong enough to lift that elastic away from their boots. We want the children to do ‘most ‘ of the dressing, but we can’t leave them stranded in an activity that is just beyond their strength at this point in their lives. But believe me, if they practice a few times a day, they will gain strength and master many skills they couldn’t do before. The kindergarten curriculum asks that children demonstrate a willingness to try new activities, and that they demonstrate self-motivation, initiative and confidence in their approach to selecting and completing a task. It takes time. It’s messy. It’s exhausting at times. But it’s worth it! And that’s kindergarten. There is nothing better than witnessing the joy on a young child’s face when he has mastered that coat zipper or when she stands in front of you announcing, “I got dressed all by myself this time!”

And I’ve got some books you can share with your children regarding the need for winter wear!

The Jacket I Wear in the Snow Image

by Shirley Neitzel http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780688045876

has terrific repetitive text that builds upon itself (think, The House That Jack Built). Children will relate to the daunting task of dressing when they hear,

“this is the scarf, wooly and red, that’s caught in the zipper that’s stuck on the jacket I wear.”

The Mitten Image by Jan Brett

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mitten-jan-brett/1100321532?ean=9780399219207&itm=1&usri=9780399219207

For every child who struggles with keeping track of all his things, there is The Mitten, by Jan Brett. Nicki insists he wants snow-white mittens, and his Nana knits them, even though she’s concerned he will lose them. Nicki drops one white mitten in the snow, and one by one, woodland animals find it and crawl in. The wool mitten stretches with the arrival of each new animal, until finally a bear sized sneeze sends them all tumbling out. The mitten flies in the air and into Nicki’s hand just as he heads home.

This story makes for a terrific ‘re-tell’. Make a large mitten out of felt or construction paper and finger puppet animals and the children will enjoy re-telling this story over and over again.

 

How Cold Was it? ImageJane Barclay Janice Donato

http://www.amazon.com/How-Cold-Was-Jane-Barclay/dp/1894222032

Jane Barclay does such a terrific job describing incredibly cold temperatures

“freezing, sneezing, goose-bumpy, teeth-chattering…kind of cold,”

that children will be motivated to bundle up before heading outside.

This story is excellent for introducing the measurement of temperature!

 

 

Thomas’ Snowsuit  Image by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko

Children love to live vicariously through Thomas who refuses to wear his new snowsuit. This very silly story is a fun read aloud that illustrates to children that it might be a lot of work to get dressed, but it’s worth it in the end when you get to enjoy all that a winter’s day has to offer. http://books.google.ca/books/about/Thomas_Snowsuit.html?id=pfprVqJJkIAC

 

 

The Snowy Day   Imageby Ezra Jack Keats.

This classic story reminds children that all of that dressing is worth it so that they may experience the magic that is a winter day.

Want a great science experiment to go along with this story? Pack 4 snowballs and put them in bowls. Put the bowls in different spots that the children believe have different temperatures (ie; back outside, in the classroom, in a refrigerator etc.) Chart predictions. Check on the snowballs throughout the day and encourage the children to document their findings.

http://www.amazon.ca/The-Snowy-Day-Board-Book/dp/0670867330

Don’t Throw the “Bully” out with the Bathwater

It was anti-bullying week. We read ONE by Kathryn Otoshi,

http://www.amazon.ca/One-Kathryn-Otoshi/dp/0972394648

about a group of colours who stand against a ‘hot head.’Image

The Five Finger Retell approach is an excellent way to engage children in discussion. We use it a lot. And so I asked:

  1. Who was in the story?
  2. Where did the story take place?
  3. What was the problem?
  4. How was the problem solved?
  5. This story reminds me of…..

The children accepted readily that the colours were the characters, and that it took place ‘just in a space.’ We talked about the problem of Red treating Blue meanly, and how 1 helped him out.

The next day we read the story again. My question to the children was, “Is Red a bully?” and “Was Red a bully in the end.”

I love this book because we aren’t casting Red as the eternal evil villain never to be trusted, but as someone who has made a mistake, and who is given the tools to try again.

And so the next day I read my book WILLOW FINDS A WAY.Image

http://www.amazon.ca/Willow-Finds-Way-Lana-Button/dp/1554538424

 

The children are familiar with the story and so I asked them to compare the story ONE with WILLOW FINDS A WAY.  The children made the connection that Kristabelle is like Red, because they both act in a mean way. They made the connection that Willow is like 1 because both characters found a way to stick up for their friends and say, “no” to the mean behavior.

And in both stories, the ‘mean character’ is given a chance to redeem themselves.

We do need to stand up to bullying. But there needs to be education and empathy for all children. (Especially in early childhood!!)As much energy needs to go into coaching a child to act with kindness, to help them find the right words, to redirect anger and disappointment in an appropriate way, and consider how their actions affect others, as we put into teaching children to stand up to bullying.

I say to my class all the time, “In kindergarten we learn. We learn about letters. We learn about numbers. And we learn to be kind to each other. And while we learn, we make mistakes.”

Children are terrified to be labeled the bully. They are often as devastated by their mean behavior as the child they’ve been inappropriate with. Often I’m consoling both the ‘victim’ and the ‘villain’ at the same time. If our conversations go beyond, “Say you’re sorry” to finding out why there was upset feelings, what are some words we can say to express that, what can we do next time… then the child who was ‘hurt’ often feels like they’ve been heard in a more valid way. And we’ve given the ‘villain’ an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and some tools for trying again next time.

It’s my hope that conversation around how we treat each other continues well after this week! It will, in my class. And I’ll be using picture books to help me along the way.

Age appropriate Remembrance Day activities for young children

 

Remembrance Day is a tricky topic that can be difficult to broach with young children.  Throughout my 20 years working in early childhood education, I’ve been in centers where worksheet poppies were completed by children, but conversation about what and why never took place, because ‘They won’t understand.” And at other times I’ve seen children scared and brought to tears with way too many details. How do you help children develop an understanding of this very important day, in a way that’s developmentally appropriate and within their realm of proximity?

I rely heavily on picture books (what a shocker!) to guide us through.

 

This year the conversation of Remembrance Day came up in my full day kindergarten class when a 4 year-old girl said, “Why do you have a red flower on your coat? My mommy has one too.”

 

We opened the conversation up to the class and the children offered up information they knew.  “It’s because people fought in a war.”

 

I introduced the cover of A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson, illustrated by Ron Lightburn.

 Image

http://www.amazon.ca/A-Poppy-Remember-Heather-Patterson/dp/0545999812

We compared the poppy on my jacket to the real poppies that grew in the field where soldiers fought a long time ago. And we talked about how poppies help us remember how brave those soldiers were, and how thankful we are that they protected us.

 

Red and black paint, a few poppies, and the cover of this book and Linda Granfield’s Where Poppies Grow, are added to the creative table.

Image

http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/where-poppies-grow-a-world/9781550051469-item.html

 And children began painting their own poppies.

 We added the words poppy, poppies, remember and Remembrance Day to our word wall bank, and children began writing about the poppies.

The books are available to the children to look through, but I don’t read all the details to the whole group. I know the books well, so there are no ‘surprise pictures’ of inappropriate photos or details.

A few boys were very interested in the pictures, so they spent a great deal of time looking through the book, asking questions about some of the topics, and making their own book, (which they later shared with the class) while other children were comfortable with the idea of painting a poppy to help them remember the bravery.

I did manage to redirect a couple of very active 5 year-old boys (who are ‘in to’ super hero play) by pointing out that the soldiers on the cover of Where Poppies Grow were real live super heroes. That peaked their interest and they abandoned their rough-house play to spend some time at the creative table. (For a few minutes anyway 🙂 )

 Later that day I introduced this poem to the class, sung to the tune of Bingo

 There is a flower red and black that helps me to remember

P-O-P-P-Y,      P-O-P-P-Y,      P-O-P-P-Y

It helps me to remember

The poem was written out on ledger paper, and by the end of the day some of the girls were printing their own copies of the poem.

 

I use these great books as a reference and a point of discussion for the children, but I use my hands-down favorite Remembrance Day picture book Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion, by Jane Barcley, illustrated by Renne Benoit as a way to help the children make a safe but emotional connection to Remembrance Day.

Image

 http://www.amazon.ca/Proud-Peacock-Brave-Lion-Barclay/dp/0887769519

 A young child asks his grandpa questions about his experiences in the war. Grandpa explains that when he first wore a uniform he was ‘as proud as a peacock.’ He spent most of his days on the ship ‘as busy as a beaver’ and when he was in a dangerous situation he pretended to be ‘as brave as a lion.’ The illustrations are a perfect match to the story.

The very scary and very sad aspects of war are touched upon in this beautiful story, in a safe manner that young children can absorb.

As the young child watches his grandpa lay down a wreath in memory of his wartime friend, the child suggests that he and his grandpa be elephants, ‘because elephants never forget’.