Posted on

Back-to-School Essentials

Children on floor with laptrays

Every new school year brings with it a level of excitement for both teachers and students. It is my favourite time of the year as everyone begins with a fresh start and an enthused energy for the year ahead. For teachers, we have the privilege of getting to teach a new class of students, designing the learning space from a blank canvas, and for many, the always-elusive goal to be more organised.

In this post I will be sharing some of my must-have resources for the classroom along with my favourite beginning-of-the-year activities to get to know your students and for your students to get to know each other.

 

Classroom Must-Haves:
When setting up my classroom I always like to have a theme or colour scheme. Over the years some of my favourite themes that I have created have been based on butterflies, ‘Up in the Sky’ (hot air balloons, planes), the ocean and the circus. I love having the colours of the learning space, resources and display boards match to set the tone of a creative organised space that welcomes students to our class.

Some items I love to include in my classroom are;


Classroom Caddies Laptrays and Chairbags

These products can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom and the best thing is that they all match.

 

Lap Trays
These Lap Trays are a great addition to any junior primary classroom. They allow for flexibility in the learning space during group work and also during independent learning. I love that these trays provide students with a hard surface to complete tasks in their books so they do not need to write on the carpet or flooring. I use these daily with my students during small group work that takes place on the floor space around the class. Many students also choose to use the Lap Trays during independent learning time so they can work in a quiet spot or away from others. In my classroom, I have a beautiful courtyard outside where my students sometimes choose to go outside to work and these Lap Trays allow them to have a suitable surface to work on.

 

Children with Laptrays sitting on floor

 

Classroom Book Caddies
These Book Caddies are a great way to store take-home readers and student books. I organise my student books in these Book Caddies and have labels on them for maths, reading, writing and inquiry books. I like having them all together for two reasons; the first being that students do not need to go to their tubs to get their specific book, rather I can either have the class captain hand the books out or I can call out student names to collect, and the second being that at the end of a learning experience students place all their books back into the Book Caddy and then I can easily view and assess their learning rather than searching through each student’s tub for their book.

 

Book caddies filled with books on desk

 

Classroom Caddies
These Classroom Caddies are perfect for shared stationery and the vibrant colours stand out when placed on classroom tables. The compartments in the Classroom Caddies allow for pencils, pens, scissors, glue, rulers to be stored neatly, making them easily accessible for student use.

Classroom Caddies are also a great resource for sharing required activity materials. During STEM and Inquiry Learning activities I use the Classroom Caddies to provide each group or table with the resources they need for the specific activity. I can organise the materials prior to the lesson and, upon completion, students can return the materials in an orderly way making clean up a lot more efficient.

Filled Classroom Caddies on classroom floor

 

Chair Bags
These beautiful Chair Bags provide students with a place to store their essentials without the hassle of a tub. I love the various pocket sizes which allow for students to store their device, exercise books and the book they are reading, along with their essential classroom resources like a ruler, pencil case etc.

Filled Chairbags and Classroom Caddies on Desk in classroom

 

Beginning-of-the-Year Activities:
At the beginning of the school year the priority should be on developing relationships with your students and getting to know what they each like and are interested in. Spending time undertaking activities that highlight student personalities will support you as the teacher but also allow students to get to know each other and begin to develop new friendships. These activities also provide teachers with an insight to see how students work together, interact and complete tasks.

These are my favourite activities to get to know your students:

Jigsaw Activity:

Jigdraw DIY jigsaw activity

Materials
Jigdraw – 20 Pack 
– Snap-lock bags

Each student receives a blank Jigdraw template with 20 pieces. Students draw a different image on each puzzle piece that represents something about themselves. Some ideas for images can be family, pets, hobbies, favourite food, favourite places etc.

Students place their completed Jigdraw pieces into a snap lock bag.

The snap lock bags are then randomly handed out to students who need to put the puzzle pieces together and then try to guess which student is represented by the images.

These Jigdraw blocks are also a great resource to use for students to share their learning during inquiry learning. They can then build upon their ideas and knowledge as the learning continues throughout the year.


Chalk Mindmaps

DIY Chalkboard Signs activity

Materials – Sidewalk Chalk 

Chalk is a great resource to have in any classroom. I have found the Sidewalk Chalk to be the perfect size and thickness for student use and it comes in great colours. Students can use the Sidewalk Chalk to draw directly onto concrete, but I have created blackboard-painted timber pieces for student use across many learning areas.

Students receive a number of blackboard-painted timber pieces and draw a giant Mindmap to highlight the topic they are given. The topic gets placed in the centre and then students write or draw their ideas and place them around the topic to create their giant mind map. This is a great visualisation too.

Some ideas I like to focus on at different times are;

    • Looking forward to this school year
    • Holiday reflection
    • Inquiry brainstorm, questions, wonderings
    • Spelling words
    • End-of-term reflections


I hope this blog post has provided you with some inspiration to help you set up your classroom or provide you with some beginning-of-the-year activity ideas to get to know your students.

 

Featured Products:

 

About the author

Eleni Kyritsis is an award-winning Year 3 teacher and Leader of Curriculum and innovation from Melbourne, Australia. Eleni facilitates professional learning workshops around the world that focus on unleashing creativity and curiosity in classrooms. You can contact her at elenikyritis.com and @misskyritsis

 

Shop MTA>

 

Blog Home>

Posted on

Explicit Instruction – What Does This Mean?

Children reading in classroom

I started my career as an occupational therapist. My job was to help people relearn how to do things in their everyday life after experiencing an illness or disability. To do this I had to do two things: firstly, I had to analyse the task to establish exactly what the person needed in order to be able to carry out the task and secondly I had to find out what they could and could not do. Only then could I develop a plan to help them master the task. I have applied this same approach – task analysis and assessment of skills and knowledge – to the process of teaching and learning literacy skills.

Mastering a skill of any sort usually involves learning strategies and techniques with lots of practice to hone the skill so that it can be used in different situations. Think about how we teach young children to play a sport. Children who want to play football for example, spend a lot of time learning the skills of ball handling, working with others and understanding the rules of the game. With those skills in place, they are then ready to start playing a game of football.

Whether children start playing football as pre-schoolers or come to the game later, they still have to master these skills and learn the rules of the game. Practice sessions continue to teach and refine these skills and budding footballers spend a lot of time honing their skills so that they can use them automatically and efficiently in a game.

This approach to teaching a sport works well when teaching literacy. Writing and reading are complex processes. Just like a game of football, they require the ‘player’ to master a range of skills and knowledge and to understand how to use them. Just like in football, some children pick up the skills effortlessly and master them with only a small amount of practice. Others take longer, and some decide that football is not for them because the skills required seem too hard to master. Being able to read and write is not like football – playing football is optional, learning to read and write is not. The way we teach children to read and write has to be successful. We need to explicitly teach the skills and knowledge they need to learn if they are to become successful readers and writers.

 

So what does explicit instruction mean for literacy?

It means understanding what is involved in learning to read and write. It means finding out what skills and knowledge students already have and where they have gaps. It means using assessment to drive instruction – to teach the skills and knowledge students have not mastered but need to learn. Sometimes this means whole class instruction and sometimes it means giving students the extra instruction and practice they need in small groups or individually.

 

Explicit instruction to close the gaps

I wrote Catch Up Your Code’ and Sort Out Your Syllables’ to address gaps in literacy knowledge for students in upper primary and secondary classrooms. From Year 5 and beyond, students are required to read more and more complex texts in subject areas that are often new to them. The language is more formal, and many words are multisyllabic, abstract and technical. Students who have not mastered the ability to decode automatically and efficiently will struggle. It is estimated that the average fifth year student encounters about ten thousand new words – described as an “orthographic avalanche” that overwhelms most of those without adequate decoding skills.

 

Teach decoding explicitly

If decoding is not automatic, the skills and knowledge needed must be taught explicitly. First and foremost, students need an in-depth knowledge of how the alphabetic code of English works. ‘Catch Up Your Code teaches this. To decode efficiently, students must recognise graphemes and be able to pronounce them in different ways. Once they have a conscious understanding of the diverse nature of grapheme-phoneme relationships, they can use this knowledge as a foundation for learning to decode unfamiliar multisyllabic words.

That’s where Sort Out Your Syllables’ comes in. Students use their knowledge of the code for the vowel sounds of English, to find and pronounce syllables in unfamiliar words. These two areas of knowledge and skill – alphabetic code knowledge and strategies for decoding multisyllabic words – will dramatically improve decoding skills in the upper years. If decoding isn’t efficient by Year 5, it will not become so, without explicit instruction that targets gaps in knowledge and skills.

 

Sorting vowel spelling patterns – the key to finding syllables in words

These Year 7 and 8 students are working collaboratively to learn about the nine types of vowel spelling patterns they will find in syllables.

Sorting spelling patterns activity on classroom deskSorting vowel patterns activity on classroom desk

 

Teach the skills for writing explicitly

From Year 5 onwards, students are required to write longer, more complex scripts in different writing genres. The expectation is that they should have mastered the foundation skills for writing: to write speedily and legibly, to spell most high-frequency words correctly, to use spelling strategies to spell most words close to correctly, to write in paragraphs, to use punctuation correctly, to proofread their writing for spelling and punctuation errors, to revise and edit their work to improve the content. Unfortunately, many students who find handwriting and correct spelling a challenge will struggle to master the other higher-order skills of writing, regardless of their potential to write as well as they can speak.

The way to improve writing skills is to explicitly target the areas that need improvement, starting with the foundation skills. If handwriting is a major challenge by Year 5, students may be best to use a digital device to avoid illegible handwriting hindering their writing progress.

If they struggle to spell words correctly, a range of strategies are needed. Firstly, students need to be able to write every sound of English in at least one way and they also need knowledge of the diversity of the code. ‘Catch Up Your Code’ teaches this. They need to know how to write multisyllabic words they can say but not spell. Sort Out Your Syllables’ teaches this.

They then need to learn about the spelling system of English – the rules and conventions that affect why words are written the way they are. Once they are fluent in getting words on the page in a form that can easily be read – even if they are not all spelt correctly – they can then be taught strategies for punctuation and paragraphing, authorship, proofreading and editing. All the skills for writing need to be taught explicitly, starting with those that build the foundation for authorship.

 

Summary

Explicit instruction for literacy is simply targeting the knowledge and skills that research has shown to be essential for students to learn to read and write, and ensuring they are taught in a logical, sequential and direct way. It doesn’t matter whether students have just started school or have been at school for a while – everyone benefits from explicit instruction.

Use assessments to find out what students know and can do. Teach what they need to learn.
Check they have learned it. Leave nothing to chance.

 

The way we teach has to ensure all students become successful readers and writers. Teaching skills and knowledge explicitly is the best way to ensure this happens.

 

Featured Products:

Catch Up Your Code

Sort Out Your Syllables

 

About the Author
Joy Allcock (M.Ed). Independent Literacy consultant, facilitator of teacher professional
development throughout New Zealand and internationally. Presenter at NZ and international literacy conferences (IRA, ASCD/ACEL). Author of a range of literacy resources for teachers and students (
www.joyallcock.co.nz). Leader of Shine Literacy Research Project (designed and evaluated by Massey University – www.literacysuccess.org.nz)

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>

Posted on

Books For Brighter Times

Brighter Times Books inside spread preview

Rise and shine, it’s book blog time!

Welcome back to the MTA Book Blog, this month coming to you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from a very different-looking Sydney.

We were thrilled that so many of you enjoyed and responded to the last post, Picture Books For Unsettling Times, in which we looked at some beautiful books to help open up a dialogue and support students during various challenging times in their lives. Now, as many of us begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a very challenging 18 months, what better time to look forward and celebrate the brighter days ahead!

For many students, the lifting of lockdown restrictions heralds a return to the classroom, a reduction in screen-based interaction and a rediscovery of many fun social activities they have likely missed out on throughout the pandemic. In this post, I’ll be shining a spotlight on four dazzlingly delightful books that celebrate some of the aspects of post-lockdown life that students can look forward to, steering them towards a positive frame of mind as they refamiliarise themselves with face-to-face learning and social experiences.

So, draw back the curtains and settle down with me as we bathe in the glow of these glorious books for brighter times.

 

‘Your Birthday Was The Best!’ by Maggie Hutchings and Felicita SalaBrighter Times: Your Birthday Was The Best Book cover and quote

We begin with a shiny new picture book (shortlisted for this year’s CBCA Book of the Year Awards) that will have your students giggling, squirming and then giggling some more! In ‘Your Birthday Was The Best’, we meet a cockroach who reminisces fondly about all the fun he had at a children’s birthday party, seemingly unaware that he wasn’t invited…

‘I was happy to see you. And you were so excited to see me you screamed!’

The hilarious juxtaposition between the narrative led by the endearingly earnest cockroach and the reality of the human characters’ experience – captured so magnificently by the horrified expressions of the guests in Sala’s gorgeous illustrations – will not only have your students falling about with laughter but is also a fabulous opportunity to promote and develop visual literacy skills.

Your students will likely have experienced very different birthdays during lockdown; whether that means a smaller celebration within the household, a Zoom party or a procession of drive-by well-wishers, there’s a good chance that many of them will have missed out on the shenanigans associated with a birthday party with all the trimmings. This hilarious and cheeky tale will evoke memories of lively birthday parties gone by and will certainly spark an excitable discussion of future party plans. ‘Your Birthday Was the Best’ also provides an excellent springboard for a fun creative writing prompt, perhaps directing students to recount their own birthday hijinks or to rewrite the account of the cockroach-crashed party from the perspective of one of the human guests.

 

‘Dinosaur Day Out’ by Sara ActonBrighter Times: Dinosaur Day Out Book cover and quote

In the delightfully charming ‘Dinosaur Day Out’, we join Sally and Max as they head to the museum with Dad to visit the dinosaur exhibit, only to discover that they are not the only ones enjoying a day out. The children embark on a tremendous hands-on dino experience, while the totally oblivious Dad narrates from his book. Similarly to ‘Your Birthday Was The Best’, the comical contrast between the different experiences of the characters in ‘Dinosaur Day Out’ is conveyed entirely through the illustrations, again supporting those important visual literacy skills. The irony that the adult character remains completely unaware of the extraordinary events taking place right under (or above) his nose is sure to delight your students.

Excursions have been largely off the cards for the past 18 months and this sweet, imaginative tale of an extra-special interactive day out captures the thrill of exploration and discovery that only an excursion brings. It will reignite students’ excitement for hands-on, real-life learning experiences as opposed to digital ones.

 

‘Lots of Frogs’ by Howard Calvert and Claudia BoldtLots Of Frogs Book cover and quote

Next, we come to one of my favourite rhyming picture books, ‘Lots of Frogs’, where we join Tommy Fox on his doomed quest to keep a lid on his box of trouble-making frogs. This brilliant rhyming story is positively leaping with laugh-out-loud imagery and is propelled forwards by a rhythm that’s as lively and bouncy as Tommy’s frogs.

‘Net’s quite full, halfway there. Look! There’s five on teacher’s chair!’

The book takes us all around the school as we follow Tommy on his mission to get those naughty frogs back in their box, and even the staffroom isn’t off limits! Students will delight in the hilarious images of frogs wreaking havoc around the school and I guarantee that the whole classroom will erupt in a fit of giggles when you reach the line about a frog jumping in the headteacher’s hair! This fast-paced rhyming story is bursting with positive imagery and language associated with the school environment and is sure to help strengthen and reinforce students’ associations with the classroom as a place of enjoyment and enrichment.

 

‘Unplugged’ by Steve AntonyBrighter Times: Unplugged Book cover and quote

Yes, I know I say this a lot, but this is one of my favourite ever picture books! In ‘Unplugged’, by author/illustrator Steve Antony, we meet Blip, an adorable robot who spends her days completely absorbed by her computer, which is just fine by her. However, when a power cut leads to Blip becoming unplugged, she suddenly finds herself blinking in the bright lights of ‘outside’…

Anthony’s clever narrative device of repeating the exact same activities that Blip enjoys on her computer as she does outside (learning new things, playing fun games, dancing to music and visiting faraway places) allows him to sidestep a preachy or judgemental tone when comparing the two different environments for these experiences. Equally, the artistic technique of having the screen-based illustrations in black and white and the outside illustrations in full colour subtly conveys the idea of the richness and depth of analogue experiences compared to two-dimensional digital ones without being overtly critical of screen-based activities.

For the past 18 months, our entire lives have been lived mostly online, our learning, teaching and even our socialising have all been confined to the digital space. ‘Unplugged’ is a celebration of what happens when we switch off our digital lives and enjoy an analogue adventure! This is the perfect tale to help students reflect on the positive aspects of the transition away from screens and appreciate the opportunity to enjoy some hands-on learning and experiences. A follow-up discussion that encourages students to think about the things that you can’t do online, or that aren’t as good online, will help students focus on the benefits of moving out from behind the screen.

 

The titles in this collection are all wonderful celebrations of a post-lockdown world, perfect for reinforcing positive emotions and associations and supporting students as they transition back into face-to-face learning and social situations. Come rain or shine, picture books provide uniquely accessible springboards to broach wider conversation topics, and all of the books in this collection are rich sources of writing and discussion prompts to encourage students to make connections with each other and their own lives and experiences.

And now, as I don my sunnies and floppy hat, this is the perfect moment to remind you that, for a limited time, you can make hay while the sun shines and stock up on these books – or any other resources for your classroom – using our Brighter Times discount. What a bright idea!

Join me again next time, when we’ll decking the shelves with boughs of books, getting excited for the festive season and looking ahead to a brand-new year.

The future’s looking bright.

 

 

About the Author

Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for eight years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>

Posted on

Ten Frightfully Good Activities For The Spooky Season

Various Halloween themed craft supplies

Halloween is such a fun time of year for spooky crafts and activities, with plenty of opportunities to bring out children’s creativity and imagination. From dressing up in costumes and decorating the classroom or home to scavenger hunts, and arts and crafts, there’s something for everyone to have a wickedly good time! Read on for some quick, easy and festive Halloween projects that will have you howling!

 

Paper Bag Monsters

Spooky bag monster craft project
Paper bag monsters are a versatile craft experience for children to let their imaginations run wild! These plain bags can be decorated in whatever wacky characters come to mind, with children freely exploring the open-ended materials offered and choosing to use them in their own wonderful ways. Add language and storytelling to the experience by creating storylines with their characters or find a cosy spot for children to engage in spooky monster puppet play when their paper bag creations are dry.

 

Featured products:
Paper Bags 
Dot Markers 
Jumbo Creations Box 
Paper Shapes 

 

Ghost Pencil Toppers
frightful ghosts pencil toppers craft project
Add some spooky excitement to drawing and writing with these quick and easy paper pencil toppers. Simply draw a ghost character onto thick paper or cardboard and cut the shape out, punch two holes in the ghost and gently thread the pencil or pen through the holes  and abracadabra, your adorably spooky pencil toppers are ready for action.

 

Featured products:
White Cover Paper 
Coloured Pencils 

 

 

Spooky Book Placeholder
Spooky Book Placeholder
Made from only a few simple paper folds and embellishments, this is one cute creature that’s batty about storytime! Grab yourself a square piece of black paper and follow the folding sequence pictured below. Add some little wings, fangs and joggle eyes, and this adorable spooky book placeholder is ready to join in the reading. Let your imaginations run wild and fold all sorts of fun creatures with a spooky twist – bats, pumpkins, cats, frogs, owls, ghosts and more!

 

Featured products:
Matt Paper Squares 
Gloss Paper Squares 

 

Storytelling Pop Sticks
Storytelling Popsticks
Storytelling is an activity rich in language and communication! It’s a time for children to hone their concentration and listening skills, explore feelings and emotions, share their own experiences and learn from others in an interchange of knowledge. Stories can explore aspects of STEM, problem solving, memory recall and provide a place where children can freely express their thoughts and imaginings. We love storytelling!

These adorable props provide visual prompts for children and educators to tell a story. Draw some story characters on thick paper or cardboard, colour them in, cut them out and stick them onto pop sticks (for extra durability, the drawings can be laminated before they’re added to the pop sticks). Follow the characters from a favourite storybook or create your own for all sorts of imaginative tales. Once upon a time….

 

Featured products;
Pop Sticks 
Coloured Pop Sticks 
Coloured Pencils  
Coloured Jumbo Pencils 

 

Spider Tic Tac Toe
Spider Tic Tac Toe drawn in chalk on slate
Also called Noughts & Crosses, Tic Tac Toe is a fun and simple game for young children to build maths skills, including counting, predictability, problem solving and special awareness. Taking turns to lay their pieces on the board, whoever gets three in a row, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, is the winner! This is a traditional game that can be made up with all sorts of odds and ends – to make the game board, use paper and markers or a hard, flat surface and chalk or sticks. To make the playing pieces, simply find four of something that’s different from the other player’s pieces. We’ve made spooky bottle top spiders in two different colours, but you could use stones, shells, wood slices, counters etc.

 

Featured products:
Bottle Tops 
Pipe Cleaners 

 

Loose Parts Dough Creatures
Loose Parts Spooky Dough Creatures
With loose parts play, anything can happen! Children can move loose parts freely, adapting and turning them into anything their imagination desires. A selection of open-ended loose parts makes a wonderfully inspiring invitation for children to explore, experiment, inquire and invent, and with the addition of dough or modelling clay, children are sure to make some fantastical creations!
To make a treasured keepsake that will last, switch the dough or modelling clay for air-dry clay, which will harden beautifully in a day or so, ready to adorn the classroom or live on at home.

 

Featured products:
Modelling Clay Kit 
Creatistics Dough Kit 
Creatistics Dough Set 
Craft Essentials Kit 

 

Happy Halloween Bunting
Happy Halloween bunting
Adorable FREE printable Happy Halloween bunting!

These sweet and spooky characters are sure to bring festive cheer to the learning environment – whether it’s the classroom, after school setting, home learning or weekend fun – the finishing touch to any Halloween party is here. Simply print out as many copies of the bunting as you desire, snip out the shapes, follow the hole punch guide and string up your spooky triangle bunting.
No need to worry about waste either. Paper bunting can be saved and reused next year, snipped up for spooky collage art, popped into the recycling or even shredded and added to the compost to make nutritious soil to grow yourself a real pumpkin!

 

Featured products:
White Cardboard 
Happy Halloween Bunting  FREE PDF Download 

 

Outdoor Story Stones

Outdoor Story Stones
Combine storytelling with the wonder of nature with these adorable story stones. Made from a mix of natural stone and resin, they’re built to last the rigours of play outside, allowing outdoor nature play to guide imaginative storytelling. The sights, sounds and textures of the great outdoors all make wonderful prompts for scenes where anything can take place. Story stones can also be made by adding simple illustrations to stones or small wooden branch cuts.

 

Featured products:
Story Stones – Fairy Tales 
Story Stones – Outer Space 
Story Stones – Under the Sea 

 

Batty Paper Crafts

frightful bat paper craft project with google eyes and gluesticksPaper arts and crafts are fantastic for children learning about colours and shapes. Snipping paper is also a fun way to work on scissor skills. Joggle eyes will help bring children’s creations to life and may even inspire some spooky storytelling! The paper shape pictures can decorate the classroom or be taken home as gifts to share the excitement of the spooky season.
This activity can also be adapted for different age groups to make sure everyone’s safe. Children confident with scissors may like to snip their own shapes out, where younger ones might benefit from a selection of pre-cut shapes to choose from.

 

Featured products;
Coloured Paper 
Joggle Eyes 

 

Spooky Fairground Bowling

Spooky Fairground Bowling craft project using cardboard rolls Fairground bowling games are a timeless tradition for all good parties, and this sweet, spooky version is a hoot. Add some wacky faces to sturdy cardboard rolls and take turns knocking them down with any ball you have handy. These ghosty characters look great with plain white rolls or decorated with paint, markers, coloured paper and all sorts of embellishments for endless design options. For older children, numbers can be added for scoring up the total points knocked over for fun maths practice.

 

Featured products:
Cardboard Tubes 
Craft Rolls 

 

*All these activities can be modified and adapted to suit different age groups, taking away small parts for children under 3 years of age and replacing them with larger safe parts. Where scissors are used, educators may use adequate supervision to suit the needs of the children or offer pre-cut shapes.

 

What are your favourite spooky crafts and activities to celebrate Halloween?

 

 

About the Author
Penny Groen is an Early Childhood Teacher who has been working in Early Childhood Education and Care settings around Sydney for 17 years. She has a passion for working in meaningful partnerships with families and communities, providing a responsive and engaging curriculum where everyone feels welcome to contribute. You can see Penny’s interest in the natural world with all the weird and wonderful experiments growing both inside and outside the classroom. Penny’s also known for equipping children with the tools to explore their interests and celebrate the discoveries each day brings.

 

Shop MTA>

Blog Home>

Posted on

Crafts To Inspire Christmas Creativity

Christmas Craft Flatlay

Christmas is such a special time of year, and no doubt in recent times it has become an even more important holiday where families can bond and celebrate. Inspiring joy and inviting groups of students to create festive crafts brings about warmth and connection. The act of making can have such a positive effect on our mental health, so inviting children and adults alike to break out the felt, paper and a pom pom or two will ignite the Christmas spirit as we roll into the festive season.

 

Personalised Christmas Bags

Christmas canvas bag decorated with Christmas baubles
Who doesn’t love a unique and fun reusable shopping bag nowadays, especially since the removal of single-use plastic. There are so many possibilities with a calico shopping bag, as previously seen with the block print stamps. Students will enjoy coming up with festive designs such as reindeers, baubles, Christmas trees and Santa on his sleigh, making this project an individual experience.

Christmas canvas bag decorated with Christmas tree

Once they have decided on their design, students can either cut felt shapes freehand or create paper patterns to pin to the fabric. Students will have fun arranging their felt pieces onto the calico bag before gluing them down. Giving students the option of adding embellishments like buttons, ribbons, pom poms and sequins to their textile arrangement adds a lovely three-dimensional texture to their final composition. Certainly a must-have to stand out from the crowd when Christmas shopping.

 

Featured Products:

Calico Shopping Bag – Pack of 10
Christmas Felt- Pack of 50

 

 

Simple Mosaicking

Christmas Tree and baubles
When thinking about the art of mosaicking, I know sometimes the process can be quite daunting. Especially the idea of using tile adhesive and grout with students. However, these resin mosaic tiles are fantastic as they can be used on all types of surfaces, can be cut with scissors if necessary and can be adhered with craft glue or pushed into mediums like Magiclay. Students can adorn papier-mache shapes such as baubles or cones since the process is not too complex. They can explore patterns when making Christmas coasters and photo frames, and for young children it will develop their fine motor skills as they pick up each little mosaic square. These mosaic tiles shimmer so brightly in the light that they are sure to spark the imagination of all who encounter them.

 

Featured Products:

Mosaic Tiles Christmas Colours
Square Wooden Coasters- Pack of 20

Paper Mache Cones – Pack of 6
Christmas Paper Mache Balls with Gold String

Christmas Pom Poms – Pack of 300

 

 

Fun and Easy Shrink Film

Shrink Film Christmas craft ornaments
This Christmas project certainly brings back a fond memory from my childhood where I made shrinky dinks out of chip packets. The process has certainly come a long way since then with much sophistication. Your students will be absolutely fascinated with this process and will be glued to the oven door as they watch their decorations bend and contort before laying flat.
These Christmas Shrink Film Decorations have lovely patterns and designs where students can use permanent markers or pencils to add colour. I personally like pencils as they enable students to explore ombres and blending, which looks striking when shrunk to a miniature size. Paired with leather thronging for a necklace or placed on a metal key ring, they become a brilliant present or keepsake.

 

Featured Product:

Christmas Shrink Film Decorations- Pack of 12

 

 

Christmas Stamping

Christmas wooden block stamps
Who doesn’t love a stamp, especially when it is adorned with an iconic Christmas object! Stamps are so versatile for this time of year and can be applied to a wide variety of materials. Pair them with acrylic paint, block ink, embossing fluid or ink pads, the medium and colours that can be used are endless and expose students to the concept of repetition. Whether stamping on fabric or paper, the final print can be used to create many different Christmas-inspired delights.

Christmas Craft Cards and pom poms on grass background

These include Christmas cards where prints can be layered on top of paper, fabrics and hessian. Santa portraits can be drawn inside wreath prints and stamps can be repeated over the surface of a card. A lovely way to add colour to your prints is with watercolours or pencils; this not only enhances the print but also allows students to explore different colour combinations. This type of project is always a favourite as people of all ages enjoy giving cards to their loved ones.

Christmas craft brooches on grass background

If Christmas cards are not your thing, stamps can also be pushed into clay to leave an impression on its surface. Whether you use air-dried clay or earthenware, these lovely pieces can be turned into pendants and brooches by adding holes or pin backs. Once dried or fired, you can have so much fun adding colour to these stamp designs and, when complete, a spot of gloss really brings them to life. Students will really treasure these as well as delight in giving them to special people in their lives.

Christmas canvas reindeer block print bag

 

If fabric is more your cup of tea, then these stamps are just delightful. Using fabric paint and a roller, they can be used to create repetitive designs onto T-shirts and calico shopping bags. Students will love coming up with their own compositions with the different stamps and can play with pattern when choosing colours.

 

Featured Products:

Christmas Block Print Stamps- Set of 6

Christmas Pom Poms – Pack of 300

Creatistics Air Dry Ceramic Clay

Calico Shopping bag- Pack of 10

 

Bling up Your Favourite Artwork

Christmas Glitter Frames on
A framed artwork from a young artist would have to be the most special Christmas gift a child can give you. Whether it is a pencil drawing, a watercolour painting or a printout of a digital piece, these glitter photo frames are just fabulous. Imagine combining your students’ artwork with a snow globe. Students will love placing their work on one side and then filling the other side up with water to give their masterpiece a touch of sparkle. Students can make artwork specifically to the size of these frames or artwork can be photographed and resized digitally before being printed out. Who doesn’t love a little glitter in their life?

 

Featured Products:

Glitter Liquid Photo Frame – Pack of 10

Christmas Pom Poms – Pack of 300

 

 

Cute as a Button Reindeers

Christmas craft ornaments sitting on Christmas paper
Can you name all the reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh? These reindeer ornaments are just the cutest and I know your students will think so too. Their most obvious use is to create a reindeer face, whether it be with markers, pencils or watercolours, and it is then placed inside and covered with the glass cabochon. Another alternative to creating the reindeer would be to place a pattern piece of paper under the cabochon and then add eyes and a nose to the surface of the glass with craft materials. Either way, these reindeers can then become pendants or ornaments where they can be further personalised when adding colours and embellishments to the wooden backing.
There will always be that student who will think outside the box and do something a little bit different. Who said it had to be a reindeer? I certainly agree. You can also fill these pendants with small paintings of Christmas icons and adorn your backing to match. The creativity is endless.

 

Featured Product:

Wooden Reindeer Ornaments- Pack of 10

 

 

Versatile Paper

Tissue paper Christmas bauble with festive background
Ah, don’t you just love the smell of paper during the festive season! It is the aroma of a million ideas and possibilities for an abundance of folded, cut and collaged crafts. Whether it be patterned paper or tissue paper, they are equally fun and useful, so it is fantastic when they come in a single handy pack. From origami folded stars to Christmas cards and decoupage Christmas baubles, what is your favourite way to use paper during the festive season?

Christmas Tree and pom poms on grass background
I particularly love to show students how to fold and roll paper into different shapes that can then be used on three-dimensional forms. A cone is the perfect beginning of a Christmas tree where paper can be applied in different ways to create interesting forms. Paper can be fringed or rolled into little cones and layered all the way up to form the tree. I always tell my students that paper is so versatile and that with a little snip and a twist it can become something amazing!

 

Featured Products:

Christmas Paper & Tissue Pack of 300

Christmas Papier Mache Balls Pack of 10
Paper Mache Cones – Pack of 6

 

This year, I hope Christmas brings an extra bit of magic and joy to us all. I hope that Christmas projects and crafts can be enjoyed and used to highlight how special the festive season is to families, friends and communities. I hope that the act of creating and giving can bring us together to regain that feeling of pure happiness that we experience when exploring and expressing ourselves creatively.

 

 

About the Author
Olivia is a specialist Visual Art Teacher in an ELC, primary and secondary school setting. She has a broad breadth of experience with inquiry learning and is an IBO qualified educator. Olivia particularly enjoys developing Visual Art units around STEAM which include electronics, technology, and science concepts. Follow Olivia on Instagram in her quest to inspire creativity @creativemindsinbloom.

 

Shop MTA>

Blog Home>

Posted on

Hands-On Learning Experiences With Osmo

OSMO Coding Game and Tablet

The Osmo range features some of my favourite classroom resources for introducing coding and integrating technology across multiple key learning areas. Today I’m going to share with you the top five things I love about Osmo. Read along to find top-rated products and resources that my students and I love to use in our classroom.

 

Literacy & Numeracy Integration

Osmo has a large range of apps that cater to English and mathematics curriculum links as well as literacy and numeracy general capabilities. I began my Osmo journey with the Genius Starter Kit (ages 6-10), which allowed me to explore apps such as Osmo Words, Osmo Numbers and five other great programs. The Genius Starter Kit encourages versatile use of accessories across multiple apps and allows students to explore concepts they are developing whilst extending their understanding to new settings. Purchasing the Genius Starter Kit provided me with opportunities to explore various accessories such as the word tiles, number tiles and tangram pieces. It was as simple as unpacking the box and downloading the app!

OSMO Starter Kit and tablet on white background

The Osmo Words app has been a crowd favourite in my learning space and fantastic for promoting letter recognition, decoding and spelling rules across various age groups. Students can work alongside a computer guide or challenge their friends to a multiplayer competition. Adjusting the ability level has allowed flexible use of the product across various users and their needs. The Osmo accessories can be purchased separately and the Osmo support team can quite often generously provide replacements. No one likes missing pieces, right?

 

OSMO Word game and Tablet on carpet

 

The Osmo Math Wizard series (ages 6-8) has been recently launched, which focuses on place value and measurement concepts within the mathematics curriculum. These new additions to the Osmo range provide engaging ways to promote fluencies within these concept areas. Both programs include interactive guides, printed student workbooks, sturdy game pieces, storage solutions and game-based learning opportunities. The Osmo reflector and the interactive guide provides feedback to the child on their place value and measurement work. This app enables multiple users to create accounts which allows for the product to be used by a classroom shared audience.

 

OSMO Math Wizard Place Value game on carpet OSMO Math Wizard Measurement game on carpet

 

The Osmo range includes various other apps such as Osmo Kaleidoscope and Osmo Tangram, which assist in promoting discrete parts of the mathematics curriculum or combining the ICT General Capability and Numeracy General Capability in your play-based learning experiences.

 

Projector App

The Osmo Projector app was launched during peak COVID-19 home learning in Australia. Responding to urgent requests from educators seeking the right tool to teach in an online or remote learning environment, Osmo created this free app to use in conjunction with the Osmo base and reflector. The app allows educators to scribe on whiteboards, worksheets or manipulate objects in front of the reflector and base, and the iPad will display this in the correct orientation for viewers. When combined with online conferencing platforms such as Zoom or by using AirPlay to stream from your device to LED displays in the classroom, this provides an innovative way to use your iPad as a projector for face-to-face and virtual learning.

 

OSMO Projector app with Tablet on school desk

 

In my classroom, I AirPlay my iPad to my Macbook which is displayed on my LED TV screen. I use the Projector app to illustrate sequencing concepts such as arrows and patterns from my work station, allowing all students to view this live-action while I’m modelling a lesson to the class. A benefit to this app is that you can screen record your learning experience and upload it to online portfolios or live cast during online conferencing.

 

Coding Starter Kit

The Osmo Coding Starter Kit (ages 5-10) provides users with access to the Osmo Coding Awbie, Osmo Coding Jam and Osmo Coding Duo apps. These hands-on learning apps provide various ways to access the Digital Technologies curriculum concepts of directional sequencing, algorithms and abstraction. This kit provides fabulous introductory and intermediate learning opportunities with self-paced programs and built-in computer support guides. With a mix between structured learning tasks and free-play opportunities, the Coding Starter Kit is a go-to product of mine as a Specialist Digital Technologies teacher. Plus, if the students are begging to use them at lunch time- the resources must be fairly awesome!

 

    • OSMO Coding Jam Game and Tablet on desk in classroomOsmo Coding Awbie Game and Tablet on carpet

 

I use these resources in my Digital Technologies lessons, lunch-time coding clubs and before/after school at the students’ requests. To introduce the activities, I model and co-complete tasks with the students first and then allow them to continue to complete the programs independently. After a couple of structured lessons, my students can now access this resource as an independent activity as a fast-finisher task.

 

Osmo Pizza Co.

The Osmo Pizza Co. Game is easily my personal favourite game to play using the Osmo base and reflector. Have you ever watched a child play a game where you are itching to move them aside so that you can have a go? You will feel that way with this game. The premise of the game is to serve customers in a pizza shop by taking orders then preparing and presenting pizzas to the customers. Additional curriculum links can be made to financial mathematics as the user is also responsible for billing the customers at the end of their visit. As the timer counts down and the customer lines grow longer, you’ll find your competitive side shines as you succeed as a virtual small business pizza shop owner.

OSMO Pizza Co Game and tablet on white background

 

Storage

Storage! The thing that makes almost every educator’s heart sing. Osmo considers their storage to make it easy for students and teachers alike to grab-and-go with their products. Every accessory and starter kit comes in durable storage solutions that allow every piece to have its own home. As someone who owns various Osmo kits, I organise the storage containers into a large plastic container so students know exactly how to access the resources when needed. The items stack together neatly and come with clear, colour-coordinated labels which means even my youngest students can find what they’re looking for and pack them away efficiently.

 

    • OSMO open storage containers birds eye viewOsmo games and storage containers on floor

 

There you have it! My top five favourite things about the Osmo range! Osmo has made a positive difference in my classroom and has been a fantastic way to easily and efficiently integrate technology across multiple key learning areas.

Featured Products:

Osmo Genius Starter Kit

Osmo Coding Starter Kit

Osmo Pizza Co. Starter Kit

 

About the Author

Taylor is a Specialist Digital Technologies Teacher. In her five years of teaching, she has found a passion for integrating a range of technologies into her classroom and strives to share these experiences with those around her. Follow Taylor along in her teaching journey on Instagram @taylorteachestech

 

Shop MTA>

Blog Home>

Posted on

Telling The Story Of Lockdown

Together Apart. Inside book spread

Welcome back to the MTA Book Blog, where I, Managing Editor and Bookworm-in-Residence here at MTA, am once again dropping into your inbox to spread the word about one of the awesome book packs that we’ve been busily curating for your classroom.

We were over the moon (wink) that so many of you enjoyed the first post, Storytime in Space,  and joined in with the National Simultaneous Storytime read-along from the International Space Station, what an unforgettable experience!

For this post, we are firmly back on planet Earth, as we explore a collection of stunning picture books that chronicle the event that has undeniably touched every one of us and every corner of the globe over the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Together Apart  book pack, we have compiled four gorgeous picture books that reflect on the pandemic and capture the lived experience of lockdown through inclusive, empathetic and sensitive storytelling. So, gather round (maintaining a 1.5 metre distance, of course), as we settle down together, but apart, to discover these beautiful new books that so exquisitely tell their own stories of lockdown.

 

‘While We Can’t Hug’ by Polly Dunbar and Eoin McLaughlin

Banner While We Can't Hug Quote Book Blog

 

We begin with an adorable picture book that addresses perhaps one of the toughest aspects of the pandemic for young children, and that is the restrictions to physical contact with our loved ones. ‘While We Can’t Hug’ is the heart-warming second picture book from author/illustrator duo Polly Dunbar and Eoin McLaughlin, the team behind ‘The Hug’. This bestselling picture book once again features best friends Hedgehog and Tortoise who desperately want to give each other a big hug but aren’t allowed to touch.

“Don’t worry,” said Owl. “There are lots of ways to show someone you love them.”

Hedgehog and Tortoise share a wave, blow kisses, write letters, do silly dances and sing songs together, joyfully demonstrating the various ways we can show affection to those we can’t be physically close to due to the pandemic. This book would be the perfect springboard to a discussion about the new ways of communication that your students adapted to during lockdown, perhaps it was Zoom calls with cousins or blowing kisses through a window to grandparents, or simply spreading some joy to strangers by painting pictures of rainbows just like Hedgehog and Tortoise. Which leads us to…

 

‘Share Your Rainbow’ by various artists

Banner Share Your Rainbow Quote Book Blog

 

 Throughout lockdown, (perhaps during your permitted daily hour of exercise) you will most likely have seen windows full of pictures of rainbows. Early in the pandemic, the rainbow emerged as the international symbol of hope for better days to come. In ‘Share Your Rainbow’, 18 acclaimed artists come together, while apart, to look ahead and share their interpretations of what the ‘rainbow’ – or ‘better days to come’ – means to them, inspired by the millions of children all over the world who displayed their rainbows in their windows.

“I cannot wait to yak with my neighbours, and laugh with my neighbours, and snarf up toasted marshmallows with my neighbours.”

The eclectic mix of illustration styles, diverse characters and relatable imagery makes ‘Share Your Rainbow’ an uplifting and hopeful record of this remarkable period of our lives, and will no doubt be a catalyst for conversation about what your students were most grateful for when lockdown restrictions eased. A follow-up activity that encourages students to draw their ‘rainbow’ would make for a stunning collage display and would provide a poignant visual reminder of the spectrum of experiences and challenges that we all faced during lockdown.

 

‘Windows’ by Patrick Guest and Jonathan Bentley

Banner Windows Quote Book Blog

 

Inspired by author Patrick Guest’s own experience of having to leave his family home during lockdown due to his son’s Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ‘Windows’ is a beautiful, contemplative story that captures the wistfulness of lockdown ennui. Brought to life by Jonathan Bentley’s stunning watercolour illustrations, ‘Windows’ follows five children as they observe the dramatic changes to their outside worlds from the safety of their windows. The story opens with the children daydreaming as they observe the shapes of the clouds, a reflection on how the sudden forced slowdown of lockdown allowed us all to observe more of nature’s quiet comings and goings. Gradually, more and more members of the characters’ communities begin to feature, and the children are able to connect and draw strength from their communities from a distance, for example by leaving rainbows and teddy bears in their windows. The story concludes with a socially distanced appearance from each child’s grandfather, cheering them up with a silly dance and a song:

“I’d love to give you all a hug,
I’d love to squash this silly bug,
but just for now, I’ll keep away, until the lovely, happy day, when all the world can dance and kiss, and hug the ones we really miss.”

Windows’ is an uplifting story of how communities and humanity pulled together, despite being apart, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Comprehensive teaching notes, including suggested follow-up activities, are available to download here from our website.

 

‘Outside, Inside’ by LeUyen Pham

Banner Outside Inside Quote Book Blog

 

 If you’ve managed to get this far through the ‘Together Apart’ book pack without tearing up, then get ready for a flood of feelings. ‘Outside, Inside’ by Caldecott Honor Winner LeUyen Pham is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful picture book that addresses not only those of us who had to move their lives inside during lockdown, but also those essential and frontline workers who remained outside to serve their communities. There may well be students in your classroom who had parents or family members who fall into this category, and ‘Outside, Inside’ does a fantastic job of honouring these key workers and allowing for their experience to be represented. The format of the book contrasts the inside world with the outside world on alternating spreads, illustrating the different challenges faced by people on both sides of the door.

“We had birthdays without parties, shared words without sound, and reached each other without touching.”

Pham’s writing is moving and poetic, and her illustrations are diverse, rich with detail and bracingly real, perhaps due to the fact that she was inspired by real photos of the pandemic when creating the illustrations for ‘Outside, Inside’. This book is truly destined to become a timeless testament to the lived experience of lockdown for children all over the world and will be an invaluable conversation starter and catalyst for emotional expression, both inside and outside the classroom.

 

The pandemic continues to impact our lives and will do for a long time yet to come. It seems inevitable that this moment in history will be something we look back and reflect upon well into the future, much as we do with other major events that have shaped the international landscape and consciousness. The titles in the ‘Together Apart’ book pack will undoubtedly help you to facilitate meaningful conversations with your students and encourage them to verbalise the complex emotions they have experienced during lockdown and the pandemic. And who knows, sharing these four stories of lockdown may inspire a whole classroom-full of future authors who have their own lockdown stories to tell.

Elbow bumps all round.

 

 

About the Author

Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for over seven years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>