Autumn Walks and Autumn Books…

Autumn is my favourite time of year. Even though it took me years to be able to spell (such a funny looking word isn’t it?) it’s still my favourite time of the year. It’s the season I remember most vividly as a child. On way home from nursery, kicking through piles of leaves that I swear came up to our armpits. Walking home from primary school collecting conkers then soaking them in vinegar or painting with clear nail varnish before threading with string for conker wars in the playground. I want my boys to experience all these memories and more (are conker wars still allowed in the playground???) To my joy the school organised an Autumn Walk for reception classes. They went to the local park, they looked for sticks and leaves and when I collected son he had rosy cheeks and his shoes and trousers were covered in mud (typically on the one day I forgot his karate kit so he had to do it in muddy clothes!) Best of all was his excitement from their adventures. Exploring, rolling in piles of leaves, muddy puddles, grazed knees, ruddy cheeks, warming up with a cup of warm milk or hot chocolate after an autumn walk… isn’t that what childhood memories are made of? 😍

Thanks as ever for reading my blog and happy exploring!

Here are our top Autumny kind of books for those snuggly kind of Autumny days…

1. That’s Not My Hedgehog- Usbourne Touchy-Feely Books perfect for little hands!

2. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury absolute classic rhyming story. My boys love this book…and crunching through muddy woods looking for bears!

3. Kiss Good Night Sam – Amy Hest, Illustrated by Anita Jeram

“It was a dark and stormy night on Plum Street….” outside the wind is howling and Mrs Bear is putting Sam to bed. He can’t go to sleep but what has Mrs Bear forgotten? This is one of my favourite books. Beautiful illustrations and makes you feel all toasty warm after reading. Perfect bedtime story for a cold Autumn night😍

4. The Wild Woods – Simon James

Love the illustrations and the story is simple but makes me chuckle every time. Jess goes for a walk with Grandad and tries to persuade him to let her keep a squirrel. Gorgeous book!

5. The Squirrels Who Squabbled – Rachel Bright & Jim Field Two nutty squirrels after the last pine cone of the season. A great rhyming book for teaching about sharing. Fabulous picture book!

6. Stanley Stick – John Hegley

My sons LOVE sticks. Eldest even had youngest pretending to be a dog and threw them for him to fetch. Which he did. Carrying them in his mouth 🤢

For less revolting ideas of things to do with a stick this book we’ve borrowed from the library is amazingly imaginative! It’s not just a stick. It’s a dinosaur, a spoon, a fishing rod and so much more! Lovely illustrations too.

7. Storm – Sam Usher

What can I say about this book? 😍 We were given it as a birthday gift for eldest. The illustrations are just fantastic and highly imaginative. It’s blowing a gale outside so a boy and a grandad decide to go kite flying, but can’t find the kite. While looking, they remember all sorts of memories. When they finally get outside there’s all sorts of adventures to be had! My sons were reminded of flying kites in the Hebrides this summer and I love the language and descriptions the book uses. Perfect book for the days where a storm is brewing and the wind is huffing and howling!

🍂 🍄🍂🍁🍄🍁🍂🍄🍂🍁🍄🍁🍂🍄🍂

World Poetry Day…

Wow what a week! Firstly, I’m so excited that after Easter I’ll be helping out a school book club to write book reviews for books that are on the The CILIP Carnegie Medal Shortlist for 2018 . Secondly, I’ve completed the manuscript for my first children’s book   and am in the middle of writing another one. Finally the icing on the cake  – today is World Poetry Day! I LOVE poetry and have done since I was little. Through poetry I learnt about alliteration, personification, onomatopoeias, haikus, rhyming but most of all I learnt that words and sounds can be fun.

Poems don’t have to rhyme (My favourite non-rhyming: Michael Rosen Eddie and The Birthday ) The words don’t even have to make sense (a great example: Spike Milligan On The Ning Nang Nong), they can be long or short, funny or sad, old or new…so much variety. It’s a fantastic fun way of developing children’s language. I often play a sort of rhyming game with my 3 year old. He says a word and I make one up and I say one back that rhymes…then he repeats one back to me. So for example, he might say “Fish” and I’ll say “dish” then he’ll say “bish” and I’ll say “mish” and so it goes on. Need to be a bit careful as of course there are some rhymes that 3 year olds are too innocent (thank goodness!) to understand…we were in the car and he heard someone with the name “Horn” on the radio and started shouting “Horn, torn, corn, born, p..,.”. I had to keep a straight face and I quickly started another rhyming  word with less embarrassing consequences! And on that note, here’s a great article highlighting the benefits of poetry for children: 5 Reasons to Teach Poetry

Writing this blog has brought back so many wonderful memories of some of my favourite poems and lessons. I thought I’d share some of the poetry I still remember reading as a child.

Favourite Poems

  1. The Guppy – Ogden Nash This was my first poetry love…I remember having to write it up and draw pictures for it in year one a very, very, long time ago. My sons’ nursery have been teaching about baby animals and I sent them this poem. It brought happy tears to my eyes to see it printed off and taped onto their fish tank when I went to collect them.
  2. A Tiger in the Zoo – Leslie Norris – This is the poem that taught me about personification. I think I was in year 9. We had an amazing English teacher. Firm but fair.  A lot of the poems we covered in the years with her really stuck with me.
  3. Night Mail – By W.H. Auden – I love this poem. To this day,  I can’t stand on the platform of a railway station without thinking of this poem when I hear the clickety clack of the rails. I think I must have been around 12years old when we covered this in school. Very special memories – at the time we studied this there was a national writing competition with the post office that our class entered and out of the whole class I won a little box of postcards. I was struggling at school so it meant (and still means!) a lot to me.
  4. Halfway-Down – A.A. Milne – A beautiful poem that really resonated with me. Growing up with an overactive imagination I had lots of “funny thoughts” running round in my head. Daydreaming was one of my favourite accidental past times….and still is!
  5. Who Killed Cock Robin? – not exactly the most cheerful one. It was in a nursery rhyme book I had. Some nursery rhymes and fairy tales are pretty grim…think it  the pictures of birds was probably why I read this one again and again…
  6. Limericks….there are so many of them and so much fun to try and make up. My favourite (Am from Leeds so probably biased)                                                           There once was a farmer from Leeds,
    Who swallowed a packet of seeds.
    It soon came to pass,
    He was covered with grass,
    But has all the tomatoes he needs
  7. I’ve still got “Quick, Let’s Get Out of Here” by Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake it’s a great book! This is the poem I used to read over and over again. Now, as a mum of 2 toddlers it really resonates even more with me!  Eddie and the Birthday – Michael Rosen
  8. An Imaginary Menagerie – Roger McGough So this is another book full of wonderful poems. Brilliantly imaginative with lots of plays on words my favourite was “The Allivator”.
  9. Who could not love Please Mrs Butler – Allan Ahlberg ? An absolute childhood classic! I think a lot of teachers could relate to this poem!
  10. For my final one I thought I’d include this one that we had to learn for a parents’ concert evening at primary school Matilda – Hillaire Belloc …think the school was trying to teach us something???
  11. Ok this is my final final poem and another one we had to learn for parents (I could write this list forever!)…I love the rhythm this one has and also remember learning the word “phosphorous”. Not a word I suppose you often hear in a poem. This is definitely the last one on the list I promise!! Colonel Fazackerley – Charles Causley

Would love to hear what your own or your children’s favourites are!

Here’s one of my own creations to finish off. Thanks for reading!

There’s A Crocodile in My Shoe – Kirsten Allen ©

There’s crocodile in my shoe! There’s a crocodile in my shoe!
I don’t know what to do! There’s a crocodile in my shoe!
If I tread on it’s nose, it might suppose
A meal might be made out of my dainty toes

There’s a crocodile in my shoe! There’s a crocodile in my shoe!
I don’t know what to do! There’s a crocodile in my shoe!
I’m not sure how it got there
And quite frankly I don’t much care!
I really can’t put my shoe on
Until that naughty crocodile’s gone

I’ve got so much to do today,
I really want to go out and play.
So, I’ll have to make a snap decision and wear my wellies instead.

Rhythm, Rhyme and Story Time

It’s been about a million years since the last blog on my page. Had so many thoughts and could write (or is that ramble) for hours on this topic…which it’s why it’s taken so long to publish this particular blog!

It started when I recently remembered listening to Peter and the Wolf when I was very young. We had it on cassette (yes that long ago! :-)) and had the book to accompany it. Each character has a different musical instrument attached to it. So I  looked for it on Spotify for the boys. Sure enough they had it on there too. It’s incredible – the boys loved the story and picking out the different noises and recollecting the bits of the story they’ve remembered. Music is amazing for the imagination and rouses so many emotions and memories. One of the ways we learn when we’re young (and sometimes now!) is through rhyme and songs. Think “Heads, Shoulders , Knees and Toes”…even my 15 month year old knows very vaguely where to point now. An example of music and learning – I had THE COOLEST times table cassette (I know an oxymoron!) when I was about 9… something along the lines of “Rock Your Tables” or “Times Tables Rock”..I learned most of my times tables through this (NB: I hated and was rubbish at maths). Then, when I nearly  knew them my parents gave the cassette to my friend’s parents as they mentioned their child was struggling. Not with my consent…Forget about helping others – I was devastated and cried so much that they got me a new one (this was a rare occurence…normally if I stamped my foot and cried a lot I’d get sent to my room of course but I think they consented as it was “educational”.) The new cassette was different, dull and not the same…I’ve only just about forgiven them for this.

Music helps understand patterns, language and develop sounds, vocabulary and memory. I can’t remember what I had to eat yesterday but I can remember where I was and what I was doing when I hear a certain song! Even memories of being at nursery singing “Do your ears hang low” (the clean version – not the rugby version…) My 3 year old is now coming home from nursery and is excited about numbers thanks to my wonderfully creative friend Gracie-May from DramEd. I’ve been trying for months to get him interested in numbers to no avail. A couple of sessions at the nursery with  songs, rhymes and Gracie-May and now numbers is one of his favourite topics of conversations!

An example music evoking recollection is when my little boy suddenly started singing Happy Birthday to his brother and then started talking  about caterpillar cakes, presents, Grandma and Grandpa coming…(it was his brother’s birthday in November!) He also recently borrowed the book “Wheels on the Bus” from the library and was “reading” through it by singing the lyrics. Of course to my knowledge he can’t read yet but anything that gets a kid to pick up a book or use imagination, in my books is a good thing.

Here’s a list of music (had lots of fun writing it!) that gets my imagination going and has memories of my childhood attached. Some of them I listen to with the boys now. That’s if I can get them away from Paw Patrol and PJ Masks!

  1. Peter and the Wolf– Sergei Prokofiev
  2. Fantasia Soundtrack – Walt Disney I remember when the film came out on VHS and I stayed over at my best friend’s house and watched it. Just genius.
  3. Bestiary – Flanders & Swann (a collection of songs that have animals in them) eg.  The Hippopotamus or The Gnu
  4. The Nut Cracker – Tchaikovsky
  5. Rachmaninoff – I have no idea where my fascination with him comes from but when I listen to him my imagination runs wild. Just incredible music.
  6. Scott Joplin – As a child I tried to learn the Entertainer on the piano and loved Maple Leaf Rag . Have no idea why but when I listen to some of his pieces I can’t help but think of Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin,
  7. Ralph Mctell – Alphabet Zoo (I was obsessed with this tape from the library and spent many car journeys listening to it. Over. And over. And over…am sure my parents must have been thrilled!)  Holly The Hedgehog and Impala were my favourite
  8. Evelyn Glennie – Evelyn Glennie is an incredible percussionist I went to see with my late father when I was a child. She’s profoundly deaf since the age of 12 and plays barefoot. At the concert I remember reading that the music was by someone (can’t remember who – think a Polish composer) who had based the music on tanks invading Poland in the World War 2. I sat there imagining these tanks and vividly picturing them in my head and the image has never left me.
  9. Now don’t laugh ( really mushy and oversentimental!) but this one was on the radio a lot and I imagined a train going over the bridge and for some reason made me feel quite emotional: The Seekers – Morningtown Ride At school years later we looked at the poem “Night Mail” by W.H. Auden and in my head for some unexplicable reason I can’t think of one without thinking of the other. This is the power of rhyme and music!
  10. Flight of the Bumble Bee Rimsky Korsakov – this one reminds me of doing homework. Or to be precise not doing homework…my father had a rocket computer game (press left to go left and right to go right, space bar to shoot) which I’d spend hours on pretending to do homework. Only heard the name of this years later. The computer version of this piece was much much more synthetic.

There are so many songs, pieces of music, nursery rhymes that I’ve got memories of and remember from school, I could go on forever.  What do you or what does your child think of when you hear certain songs and tunes? See if you can get your child to listen to a song/tune/noise and ask them what it reminds them of. Maybe bashing pots and pans can be elephants. Blowing bubbles in a glass filled with water could be fish…or hippos…is there anything in the house that can make a sound like a squeaky wheel? What stories are in the sounds? Get your children listening to music (anything at all – rock, rap (clean versions!), classical, jazz) Does it sound like an elephant? Can you hear thunder? Do they like the music why/why not? Can they draw a picture of what they’re hearing? Count the beats/taps/how many times they clap their hands. Play a game – make the first line of a song up then the next person has to continue it.

To finish, here are a couple of interesting articles which might be useful. Of course the main thing is that children enjoy the music and have fun…anything educational they get out of it is a bonus!

The Importance of Music – Toddler Development

Singing to children may help development of language skills – The Guardian

The science of why music improves our memory and verbal intelligence – Washington Post

How Music Feeds and Steers Your Imagination – Psychology Today

Children’s Poetry…

Children’s rhymes and poems can shape the way we look at the world when we’re younger and bring back amazing memories when we’re older. To give you an example, I honestly can’t walk past a fish tank or see a kitten without fondly remembering sitting in a classroom (think it was Year 1) and learning, writing out and illustrating this one by Ogden Nash:

The Guppyby Ogden Nash

Whales have calves,
Cats have kittens,
Bears have cubs,
Bats have bittens,
Swans have cygnets,
Seals have puppies,
But guppies just have little guppies.

A.A. Milne, Michael Rosen, Roger Mcgough, Spike Milligan all have special places in my heart and different meanings for me. I think the one that terrified me was one we had to learn for a school concert: Matilda – Hillaire Belloc it’s a bit like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” but much darker!

Children’s poetry is fantastic for repetition, vocabulary and according to one blog even physical coordination…

Why Reading Poetry is So Important for Children

It’s also great to create poems with children and get them thinking about how words can sound with rhythm. How they can be used to express thoughts and feelings or just fun noises!

A game that my 3 year old son loves it when I rhyme words and change the first letter to make new and sometimes nonsense words. He joins in which is fantastic (though we have to be a bit careful…listening to the radio he heard the name Jack Horn…he suddenly started shouting “Jack Horn! Jack Corn! Jack Forn!Jack Morn! Jack P…..” 😳 Luckily we were in the car so no one around and I managed to distract him by shouting frantically back “Jack Corn Jack Corn” and then change the topic which seemed to work)<<<<<<<<<<<<
y article that gives ideas for simple activities. I particularly love the suggestion of having a book around the house that kids can write in. I used to have my own blue notebook (would love to dig it out!) And poetry is educational, helps kids to read etc but most of all it's just good fun!

Children’s Poems <<<<<<<<<<<<
ouch and let me know – What was your or what is your child's favourite childhood poem?

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