Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Tips from Authors: What I Wish I'd Known Before I Decided to Publish a Book

‘Authors Share One Thing No-One Tells You About Writing A Book’

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Stop telling me what's wrong with our kids

Nearly every day, I see an article online about what's wrong with our kids, from teenage boys to toddlers. Speaking from the view point of a mother who has both at the same time, I am so disappointed that this is the only way they seem to be perceived: as a problem that needs to be fixed.

My grandmother passed away recently. She was a woman who faced many challenges in her life and didn't always make the right decisions when it came to the best interests of her children, but she was passionate about always loving them for who they are. I learnt so much about the challenges of parenting from her and I will be forever grateful.

Our children are doing amazing. They are growing up in a world that is moving faster than any other time in history. No previous generation has had to adapt to the amount of technological, economical and climate change that they will have to do in their lifetime. As far as I am concerned, they are adapting incredibly well and in most cases, no thanks to us.

If we criticise our kids about being more sensitive, more distracted and harder to fit into a mould than previous generations, then we are being absolutely correct but incredibly unproductive. Why does that have to be bad thing? Children are constantly bombarded with real world concepts that we were sheltered from when news was only watched on television at night and only by grown ups. Children are expected to cope with the real world issues without in most cases having an age appropriate context to understand what is happening. We can't shelter our kids from the world. It's everywhere they look; TV, computer, phones and even at the petrol station when you are filling up the car, but we can treat them with the respect they deserve and have conversations with them and give them the tools that need to live in a world that doesn't sleep. I would much rather have a son who felt he could express his feelings to me, both good and bad, so that I could better understand his situation and hopefully give him the tools for further safe expression and continued communication, than make him feel that overwhelming emotions made him weak or inferior somehow and that expressing those feelings is wrong.

If I had a choice between reading a book or playing a game on my iPad when I was their age, I would have chosen iPad, and I love books. The lure of modern technology comes from smart marketing, inadequate arts funding for interactive creative projects and a bunch of dinosaurs who are still trying to compete with immediate, individualised, integrated programming and display an appalling lack  of the imagination and foresight required to embrace what could be an amazing partnership between the new and the old. When parents are so distracted themselves, not only by having to be a two income family just to make ends meet, and then catching up with the younger generation by trying to understand the technology and social media they use with such ingenious prowess, that any time left should be to focus on the children. This is where we as parents fail them, by scheduling in after school and weekend activities from sporting, music and extra academic lessons to fill the white noise that deafens you as a parent of a child that you can't connect with. Connection with our kids is what's missing, and that's where we are failing them and not the other way around.

If we could just spend more time teaching our kids about critical and creative thinking, using the technology they are comfortable with, then they can hold the key to their own salvation. The insatiable need we have to give our kids labels is making them think that if they don't have one, there must be something wrong with them. It's not normal to be normal anymore. We've taken everything that was done with the best of intentions and twisted it with political purpose or economic gain. Even play based learning, extra help in the classroom and children's mental health issues have been skewed so far from the essence of their original purpose that they end up in most cases doing our kids more harm than good. Our education system, child protection agency and health care system are broken and the good people within these organisations that are trying to do the best for our kids are fighting a losing battle. All of these things are our of our kids control and another example of how they are constantly reacting to the world around them in order to survive. There is no time to think.

I understand that our kids aren't perfect, but what more can you expect from an imperfect world? As a parent, I'm not going to beat myself up about that, mainly because I don't have the time or energy to dedicate to what society thinks of me or my children, but mostly because the time I do have is better spent letting my kids know how proud I am of everything they are achieving and how much I'm looking forward to seeing the men they will become. I also let them know how sorry I am that the world they have to grow up in, the world that my generation was meant to fix, is a world full of 'ifs' and 'buts', without a clear answer of why things are the way they are or a united, safe and secure direction for the future. I believe with all my heart that the next generation, when we give them the support they need, not the criticism they definitely don't deserve, then and only then will they be the ones who really can make the world a better place.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Importance of Group Story Time

The Importance of Group Story Time

It is a growing problem but a common fact that children are less interested in reading books as a single passive experience. If this is their sole experience of story time, we are in danger of them becoming disinterested in reading at all. The importance of regular storytelling in a group format has never been so important.

Children become engaged during story time because they construct mental images of the text events  while it is being read aloud. When you provide them with a story that is vividly written, they become engaged with the text and actively respond to it. The use of picture books as stimulating text, not only for pre school aged children but for those in primary levels of education, provides a starting point in terms of creating a home or school culture that fosters engaged reading and aesthetic response. The interpretive tools that children use as they attempt to craft meaningful interpretations play a significant role in cognitive engagement and creative thinking. 

One interpretative tool that has displayed for me the most cognitive engagement is when children relate the content of the text to their own personal experiences. When children are able to think about the text and make connections between the new information presented in the story and their store of background experiences, this allows them to be active and thoughtful about their interpretations.

Children often use this ability to  make connections between familiar knowledge and incoming information in order to make predictions and inferences about characters, their motives and actions, as well as story events. If they can enter into shared reading knowing that their own unique set of interpretive tools has value, they find it easier to construct a meaningful connection and learn to work well in a collaborative environment. 

We need to encourage children more often to open their tool boxes and apply those tools in ways that build team work and critical thinking. The collaborative effort of group story time means children, along with the story teller, can add pieces of information recalled from the text, earlier predictions or background knowledge to support and elaborate ideas which is a natural and organic encouragement of further reading.  Each new piece of information added to the discussion becomes a new tool that can be used to see how they all fit together as a whole, allowing them to raise their own questions and topics for discussion and learn the intrinsic value of linking the process of reading to finding answers to their own concerns. 

If you have had a similar experience with group story telling, I would love to hear from you in the comments. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Monday, 21 August 2017

Is Work-Life Balance a Trap for Mothers?

Achieving a Work-Life Balance

Writing for me is more than a hobby. I want to make it my career and I am well on my way. I have just signed by 15th picture book contract and started my own company, Share Your Story, to help aspiring authors realise their dream of becoming published storytellers.

Achieving a work-life balance, providing for my family and setting a good example for our kids is above other things why I want to be successful. Balancing having the time and energy to look after my family and the time and energy to put into my passion is my top reason for wanting to achieve a work-life balance. When your goal is hard, and your dream is bigger than your comfort zone, can living a dream for someone else really be enough to keep you motivated? Is it so awful to want to achieve something just for yourself? Have we become so scared of being labelled 'selfish' and a 'bad mother' because we want to pursue a career that the term Work-Life Balance is something that is used when we are 'failing' to put our family first?  My kids love me and they want me to be happy, so does hubby. But, do they want the dream I have? Do they share my passion? The answer is no. Doing it for them is not enough. I have to do it for the love of working for myself. What other people think of me is a huge achievement-blocker that needs to be overcome because when my goal becomes difficult to reach, it will be easy to stop and justify failure by saying it didn't turn out to be the right thing for my family, that I didn't have a work-life balance and I will listen to the million reasons why I shouldn't keep trying. What if it was the right thing for me and I just gave in because it meant my family would have had to make some changes and sacrifices for me to achieve it? That is part of achieving a work-life balance, placing your passion as a priority and not always the other way around.

When I do achieve balance, true balance will come with the love and support of my family and a business that allows me to give them the time they need along with a wife and mother who is energised and successful with her chosen career. Work-life balance will something I have done for myself as well as my family and I will be proud of that.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Is Imagination An Endangered Species?

Last week, I was speaking with some author friends and we all agreed that in our recent author visit experience, children were struggling with the concept and practical application of imaginative play. And we asked ourselves the question, "Is imagination in danger of becoming extinct?"

Modern children are very good at mimicry and mirroring instruction. The excel at engaging in guided learning but with the current curriculum and focus on learning outcomes, more so than learning pathways, are they loosing the ability to think creatively, independently and inventively?

The important role that imagination plays in creating engagement in more than just rope-learning and forced literacy reflects the essence of the need for questioning, exploration and extended discussion around issued that are important to children as individuals. Here are my top three reasons why we need to save Imagination from dying out all together.

1. Imagination is learned.

Children are not born with imagination. Imagination is a learned strategy that is modelled and used by a caregiver or peer in an attempt to construct meaningful interpretations of the seen and unseen world in which we live. The importance of creating an environment in which children learn to and feel free to use their imagination can be undervalued in a technologically advanced culture that lends itself to children becoming passive, unresponsive and unable to engage with any medium that required individual interpretation, namely, books. We need to teach the next generation to use their imagination if we hope to have the inventors, the dreamers and the big idea makers that will take them into the next century and beyond.

2. Imagination is a tool.

The context and culture of imagination influences engagement in many areas of children's lives and is a tool for experimentation and learning. Children use their imagination as a tool in their interactions with the world around them as they attempt to make sense of it or craft their own interpretations. The act of imaginative play itself becomes the environment from which information is gathered which is evidenced by their non-verbal cues as well as their overt responses. They also become more motivated to participate in learning as a result of the engaging properties of the use of imagination as a teaching tool.

3. Imagination is contagious.

The reflexivity inherent in the use of imagination is that when the culture of the learning environment permits children to question, explore and invent, not only are individuals cognitively engaged, but their use of imagination elicits engagement in their peers as well.  Children can also use imaginative play as a way of safe space sharing of thoughts, feelings and ideas, modelling the behaviour for their peers and allowing age appropriate conversations of important topics that are relevant to their life and learning. More than any of that...it is so much fun.

If you have any other reasons why we need to save Imagination, especially in schools, please let me know in the comments.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Books Aren't Vegetables.

Reading is not just vegetables, it's also dessert

Waging a war to get your child to read can never be won; the only true victory happens when you lay down your arms and befriend the fact that for some children, reading is like having to eat their vegetables...they only do it because a parent said it was good for them or a teacher makes them do it before they can move on to something 'fun'.

The more we treat reading like a chore or homework, the more children are going to become disengaged from the true purpose of books; to give the gift of another world, a new friend or a mirror to celebrate what makes us all truly unique.

Here are my top 3 ways that you can make reading less like vegetables, and more like dessert.

Reading is independent

Even though an emerging reader will need help in the beginning, the goal of teaching a child to read is so they can become independent and do it on their own. Have books available for your child at their current reading level, not the reading level they are 'meant' to be. This may mean starting with picture books and building on literacy and language from their, but in their own pace. They should always be able to read the text comfortably and it doesn't always have to be out loud. Don't interrupt or correct unless they look for help. Asking questions after each book is a great way to promote reading comprehension and determining whether to increase the complexity of the stories. The more you encourage your children to take their own initiative the more confidence they will build. They won’t be afraid to give books a go and you will find they will naturally choose reading over other alternatives.

Reading is about choice

School children are seldom given the choice for what, when and where to read. By giving your child a choice outside of school, it will allow them to understand that there is a time and place for texts that serve a purpose in an educational setting, as well as books that are read purely for enjoyment. Take them to your local library and let them choose books that interest them. Don't judge or deny because you think it is above or below their capacity; you would be surprised how much value can be obtained from the most obscure book, all because it engaged a child in some way.

Reading is fun

Going back to the purpose of books, reading is meant to be a way of connecting, not only to the world around us, but to world's that only exist in our imagination. If you child prefers to read graphic novels, comic books or on a tablet, that has to be totally ok. For all its intrinsic educational value, reading is entertainment. Fun online reading games, reading apps and read along YouTube videos all have their place in modern literacy.  How can we expect children to grow up to be life long readers if we place restrictions on the mode that engages them the most, whether it be paper or screen? There is room for both. Books have always come in all shapes and sizes, so reading is reading, no matter the medium. Focus on your child developing a passion for reading and everything else is just icing on the cake.

Do you have any other suggestions for why you agree that books are definitely dessert? I would love to hear from you.