Back To School (Remotely)

“He was struck by how lives diverge and by how powerless each of us is up against the force of circumstance.” Philip Roth, Nemesis

Powerless we may be in the grand scheme of things, but powerful we are as parents in the education of our children. Particularly when they’re remote learning! As the school term starts again, I thought I’d quickly outline some excellent resources connected with children’s reading and literacy. Although these have been widely shared in the children’s book world, parents and carers may not yet know about them:

authorfy challenge
My favourite so far is this Authorfy literary challenge. (You can click on the picture to make it larger.)  Authorfy started a few years ago and is quickly becoming an unparalleled resource for teachers and librarians. As well as this simple picture tool, there are ten minute challenges to complete on the website, numerous free videos from authors exploring learning resources connected to their books, such as how to write historical fiction and so on (called masterclasses on the classroom part of the site), and a creative area with more ‘fun’ activities’ such as word searches, colouring, quizzes and more, all of which are connected to the texts.

Another useful source of lesson plans or learning schemes is CLPE. Although really a professional tool for teachers, they have some free downloadable resources connected to a few select books. They are more in-depth than most, but easy to navigate. They also have some resources that were created for World Book Day, which are suitable for home learning. Click here.

While we’re on teaching resources, I can’t help but plug some of my own – look on Zephyr’s site for some wonderful novels and see the accompanying readers’ notes. Click on the ‘here’ at the end of each paragraph.

So many authors are giving up oodles of their time to bring free readings, videos and teaching ideas to you. Anthony Horowitz has decided to write a new Diamond Brothers novel called Where Seagulls Dare, and is planning to share a chapter at a time as he writes it. It should appear on his website. Frank Cottrell-Boyce has some excellent resources on his Instagram pages, including creative writing tasks for Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6). Cressida Cowell is busy reading from her How to Train Your Dragon series, and you can access this on Youtube or via BookTrust – she is after all, our current Children’s Laureate (with a now extended tenure because of the Coronavirus). There are many other ‘hometime’ ideas on the BookTrust website.

For budding artists, many illustrators are also teaching their tricks of the trade virtually. BookTrust’s illustrator-in-residence, Ed Vere, is running a drawing competition here. 

I mentioned Rob Biddulph’s #drawwithRob before, but you can also find Steve Antony’s drawing videos on YouTube, as well as many others, and simply the best place to see what’s going on is to visit this webpage, hosted by Toppsta, which updates daily giving live activity listings.

hug me
For those who want a more passive tool, Tom Hardy is starting a week of bedtime stories on the CBeebies bedtime slot, 6.50pm, starting 27th April with Hug Me by Simone Ciraolo. I think parents and children will be glued to the screen, maybe trying to hug it! 

I’ll try and bring you some more actual book recommendations soon (although I’m home-schooling three so I might be a bit busy)! In the meantime, you can check out the National Shelf Service video channel, in which a librarian recommends a children’s book each day. 

Also, I’ve found an excellent and fun way to tap into gaps in your child’s education. Editor Gillian Stern has produced a brilliant series of general knowledge quizzes for children in Years 5 and 6, which she’ll email you for free, and they are perfectly pitched. You’ll need to contact her via Twitter. We tried the first quiz, and the score was more than acceptable, but did show us where the gaps are. Now to teach! (The questions can be used in any format – stage your own quiz show, use buzzers, make noises, award prizes.)

Lastly, don’t panic. If the resources are overwhelming or you are inundated with your own work, then a child with a blank piece of paper is just fine too. They can doodle, sketch, write from scratch. And of course, the best thing of all, is simply reading for pleasure.

swimming against the storm
I’m currently reading Swimming Against the Storm by Jess Butterworth, a compact novel that takes the reader far away from the current chaos, and into an environmental crisis that faces Eliza and her younger sister as they get lost in the swamps of the South Louisiana Bayou, where they live. A gripping adventure story for age 8+.

If your child is anxious about Coronavirus, or struggle to concentrate on any of the above because of the lockdown, then this brilliant resource from Nosy Crow publishers may ease the mind and explain what’s going on. With illustrations by Axel Scheffler, illustrator of The Gruffalo and more, there is a familiarity despite the strangeness of the circumstances. Do have a read yourself too. You can download it here.

Happy schooling, and reading.