Category Archives: Back to School

Friday Barnes Girl Detective by R. A. Spratt

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IMG_3690Friday Barnes Girl Detective by R. A. Spratt, paperback novel, 256 pages, published by Random House Australia in 2014.

Friday Barnes Girl Detective is a new series from R. A. Spratt, the creator of the Nanny Piggins series. The story follows Friday Barnes, a rather unusual eleven year old, with an uncanny ability of solving mysteries. She is the youngest daughter of two academics who have not the time nor the inclination to provide their genius daughter with the emotional support and attention that most children experience. They are just a little too preoccupied with their work, which has left Friday to to do much as she pleases. As she mostly likes to learn, experiment and observe, she doesn’t usually get up to too much mischief. After Friday solves a bank robbery case, she uses the reward money to enrol herself at Highcrest Academy, the most exclusive boarding school in the country. As soon as she arrives, Friday realises that beneath the school’s veneer of respectability are mysterious occurrences, learning competitiveness and general rich-kid hi-jinks. She quickly finds herself solving cases of missing homework and false accusations, dealing with a boy in her class who inexplicably appears to hate her, and most interesting of all, the Yeti that has made a home for itself in the school’s swamp.

Friday is a very interesting character. She is intelligent, precocious, peculiar, observant, and yet lacks the ability to correctly decipher social cues, and she dresses terribly! She reminds me a lot of that great and strange detective, Sherlock Holmes, who has been a favourite of mine since childhood. This young detective has definitely got me interested. I was reading this book to my third grader, a few chapters each day, except she liked Friday Barnes so much she sneakily read the rest of it without me!

All the characters were well written, and easily conjured in the imagination. I quite liked Friday’s best friend, the airy Melanie, who fulfilled the faithful sidekick role so well. And of course, our hero must have an arch nemesis, in this case, Ian Wainscott, who has a penchant for mean pranks and snide remarks.

As Friday is a genius this book contained some advanced language and terms that my third grader had not run across previously, mostly regarding her abilities in maths and science. I explained these terms, but they seemed mostly to serve the point of Friday’s extreme intelligence rather than to progress the story, and as such their inclusion did not lessen the enjoyment my third grader gained from the book. She quite happily devoured the story as it should be taken, with great enthusiasm and intrigue.

Suitable for children in middle primary school through to lower high school, Friday Barnes Girl Detective is the start of a great series, sure to entertain young mystery fans. We are now eagerly anticipating reading the second book in the series, Friday Barnes Under Suspicion, which has been recently released in Australia.

Calico Bags

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A spotty calico bag.

A spotty calico bag.

We have re-usable bags of all shapes, sizes, and colours. Some of my favourite bags are the calico ones, they are lightweight and scrunch up small enough to carry in my bag. They are great for shopping and make perfect library bags, but they can be a bit boring to look at, so we took fabric paint to some new calico bags to make them unique and appealing.

The tin of fabric paint.

The tin of fabric paint.

Squeezy bottles of paint.

Squeezy bottles of paint.

A while ago my mother had given me a tin of old fabric paint tubes. She wasn’t sure if they were any good, but thought I might like to try them out. As we went through the tin we found only a couple of the tubes were dried out completely, but almost all of the nozzles were clogged. For these tubes, I cut the end off them to access the paint. There were also some 3D fabric paints in squeezy bottles that were still fine to use too.

Making hand prints.

Making hand prints.

We set out our calico bags with a piece of cardboard inside to prevent the paint from seeping through to the other side, and pegged the bag taunt to make it easier to paint. The kids did hand prints, used stampers, paint brushes, and squeezed the 3D paint directly onto the bags to make each one special. They had a ball. And when all the bags were finished, we waited until then were touch dry, and turned them over and did the other side.

Stamping.

Stamping.

Squeezing on 3D paint.

Squeezing on 3D paint.

Brushing on paint.

Brushing on paint.

Splotching paint on.

Splotching paint on.

Spreading the paint.

Spreading the paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time we were finished, we were all covered in paint, but we had had fun. Some of the paint didn’t come off as easily as others, and I needed to use some mineral turpentine to remove it from our hands and brushes. The kids thought it was super disgusting! Next time we buy fabric paint I will be checking to make sure it will wash off with soapy water.

Once fully dry, I heat set the paint with the iron. I used a tea towel over the design whilst ironing to protect the design, and prevent any stray bits of paint adhering to my iron. The finished bags look great, and are much more fun than the plain ones!

Dinosaur stamped bag.

Dinosaur stamped bag.

Hand print bag.

Hand print bag.

Alice-Miranda at School by Jacqueline Harvey

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IMG_8590Alice-Miranda at School by Jacqueline Harvey, paperback children’s novel, 281 pages, published by Random House Australia in 2010.

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones is a precocious seven year old who is starting at her new boarding school, Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies. There is something not quite right about the school though. The headmistress, Miss Grimm, never emerges from her office,  the school cook has never had a holiday, and the Gardner is not allowed to plant flowers. Alice-Miranda decides to set things right, but she must also deal with Alethea, the school bully, and a series of difficult and near impossible tasks set by Miss Grimm as an entrance test.

The Alice-Miranda series is written by the same author as the Clementine Rose series, but these books are longer and more challenging. While this book is probably best for middle primary school children, I decided to read this with my second grader, each of us taking turns to read. She was quite capable of reading it, but we did come across some words that were new to her. We took this as a learning opportunity and discussed these words, and then we looked some of them up in the dictionary. This didn’t diminish her enjoyment of the story though, and she has already begun reading the second book in the series by herself.

As Alice-Miranda is the only child of very wealthy parents who have spared no expense in raising their daughter, she had the potential to be a bit spoilt, and she is quite outspoken, so I expected her to be somewhat annoying, and ergo unlikable, but that actually wasn’t the case. She is very forthright and opinionated, but she was also intelligent, charming, interesting and confident, adventurous, charitable and kind. I found myself hoping that everything would work out for her as we read. The story is well written and interesting, with plenty of description of both characters and surroundings allowing for an immersion in the tale. I really liked sharing this story with my daughter.

Alice-Miranda’s future adventures are definitely on our to-read list!

 

 

Clementine Rose and the Pet Day Disaster by Jacqueline Harvey

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IMG_8565Clementine Rose and the Pet Day Disaster by Jacqueline Harvey, paperback children’s novel, 151 pages, published by Random House Australia in 2013.

Clementine Rose Appleby is just five years old and she’s starting school with her two best friends. She is very excited about starting kindergarten until she meets her teacher, Mrs Bottomley, a very stern and scary older teacher who has lost her enthusiasm for teaching and for children. And if that wasn’t bad enough, some of the boys in her class, especially Angus, are mean to her, even telling lies about her to the teacher, right from the start. However, even though things don’t get off to a great start, the announcement of a pet day at school cheers Clementine up. Clementine takes her little tea cup pig, Lavender, along to the pet day, and enters her into a number of categories. She invites her Great-aunt Violet to bring her cat to the pet day too, and though Violet has no plans of attending, that is where they end up, with some interesting consequences.

This fun tale of Clementine Rose is a junior novel suitable for lower to middle primary school children. The story and language is easy to follow and understand. There are some black and white illustrations throughout, and a list of the characters¬† and how they fit into the story at the end of the book as well. Clementine Rose is a very likeable and sweet character, and we enjoyed reading about her first days at school. Both my preschooler and my second grader liked this story, and I’d be happy to read more Clementine Rose adventures with them.

 

Spot Goes to School by Eric Hill

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IMG_8247Spot Goes to School by Eric Hill, paperback lift-the-flap book, first published in 1984 by William Heinemann Ltd, this edition was published by Puffin Books in 2013.

This was the very first Spot book I can ever remember reading, and there was a lovely feeling of nostalgia when I first read it to my own children. I think every child likes Spot books. Lift-the-flap books are lots of fun, and Spot and his friends are quite lovable.

In this Spot adventure, he is off to school for the first time. All his friends are there, and they sing, and play and build and paint. It’s so much fun Spot doesn’t want to go home.

Great for young children, from about two years, this book was also enjoyed by my seven year old. The lure of lift-the-flaps is high, and I had to make the kids take turns, but the flaps add some extra fun to the story. The illustrations are big and bright, yet simple. The text is also large with simple language, good for children beginning to read. Spot is a firm favourite for us.

Melty Beads Bookmarks

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IMG_8039All of us are guilty of reading several books at once, leaving bookmarks in them, and forgetting to replace our bookmarks when we are done. L made a lovely bookmark holder out of pop-sticks a couple of weeks ago which is helping us to keep our bookmarks together, but we could do with some more to add to our collection. We were browsing through a Hama Beads Inspiration booklet when we saw some bookmarks made from the beads and some ribbon. We decided to have a go at making some bookmarks like this, though we made up our own bead designs.

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L made this design on our penguin pegboard.

L made this design on our penguin pegboard.

Each of our designs included a hole for the ribbon to be attached, and we tried not to make them too big or they would have been too heavy to stay in the book. Since each one wasn’t very big, we used a few of the smaller pegboards to create them.

IMG_8038I ironed the beads together and when they were cool we threaded some ribbon through the hole we’d left, and tied it off. We made the ribbon long enough that it would lie right along the height of our books and poke out the bottom.

These make for some very cute little bookmarks, and they were really easy to make. L particularly liked that she could make any shape or design she liked with any colours.

L's new bookmark in one of our books.

L’s new bookmark in one of our books.

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Pooh’s First Day at School by Kathleen W. Zoehfeld

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IMG_8113Pooh’s First Day at School by Kathleen W. Zoehfeld and illustrated by the Disney Storybook Artists, paperback picture book, 32 pages, published by Funtastic Ltd in 2007.

Christopher Robin is starting school tomorrow, but the school is outside the 100-acre-wood, and only Christopher Robin gets to go. Roo and Tigger want to go too, but Piglet and Eyeore aren’t so keen. Since they can’t come with him, Christopher Robin sets up a classroom just for his friends, with singing, drawing, building, counting and even a snack of honey. He tells his friends all about school, and shows them it will be lots of fun.

This is a nicely illustrated picture book featuring the familiar characters from the 100-acre-wood. My kids love Winnie the Pooh and this book is no exception. They liked seeing some of their favourite characters enjoying a day at school. Even though Piglet was a little scared to go to school, and Pooh didn’t think he was smart enough to go, they both enjoyed the experience, as Christopher Robin shows them that school can be fun for everyone.

Usborne First Experiences: Going to School by Anne Civardi

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IMG_8110Usborne First Experiences: Going to School by Anne Civardi and illustrated by Stephen Cartwright, paperback picture book, published by Usborne Publishing Ltd in 2005.

This book is part of the Usborne First Experiences series which is designed to introduce young children to new things, taking some of the anxiety out of these new situations. Going to School follows twins Percy and Polly Peach on their first day at school.

Getting ready for the day, going to school, meeting the teacher and the other children can all be a little daunting. Polly is a bit shy, but that’s okay because her mum can stay for a while to help her settle in, and there are lots of fun things to do at school, like painting, craft, music and playing in the playground. The day goes quickly and soon it is time to go home, going to school was pretty good after all.

This is a simple story showing that school can be a fun and safe place where children can make lots of friends. While reading this book, children can try to find the little yellow duck that is hiding on each page too. This adds an extra element of engagement for young children when reading this book. Another good book to read to children just about to start preschool or school.

 

Lego School

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Playing with Lego is a lot of fun. Making up Lego kits is great for L because she has to follow the instructions to get the model right, and sometimes she finds that a little difficult. She loves to display the Lego she has built and play with it. Doing free building with the Lego promotes creativity and logic, as the kids have to design, and then build their creations in a way that works and reflects their ideas.

A has only just started to enjoy Lego, until recently she had been exclusively using Duplo, which she loves. Both kids still love building with Duplo, and because of its size I’m not worried about Baby T swallowing it.

A placing trees and flowers ready for demolition.

A placing trees and flowers ready for demolition.

I put out the tub of Lego, gave them each a green base board and asked them to build their ideal school. Between them they decided that L would build the playground, and A would build the school room. A placed trees and flowers on her board first, and then knocked them all down to make room for the school buildings… L’s first addition to the playground was a swimming pool. I helped A set out the base of her building, then she placed windows, a door, and a doggy door (a small opening window). From there she was able to build the walls up.

 

Making an equipment shed.

Making an equipment shed.

I helped by finding some of the pieces they were looking for, adding some bricks to A’s school room, and putting little flower heads on the flower stalks as requested by A. While we built, we discussed the kind of things their dream schools would have. They both wanted lots of animals at their school. A added a pony and stables to her Lego design, while L added several dogs to the playground. They wanted horses, dogs, bunnies and chickens at their school, as well as lots of trees, flowers and soft grass. A pool was very important to L, and having lots of outdoor equipment like bikes, scooters, hula hoops, climbing frames and a sand pit was desired by them both. They also decided the school should have a nurse with her own little medical area, as well as a swimming instructor by the pool.

Building up the school room.

Building up the school room.

This activity fired up their imaginations as they thought about want they wanted at their ideal schools. They are in a small public school at the moment, so they can’t really have all the elements they mentioned, but one thing they both agreed on was that their ideal school would have awesome teachers, just like the ones at their real school. Hearing that made me happy. While they might like to have some extra things, like a pool, at their perfect school, they are extremely happy with their actual school, and the teaches and staff there. They are also very happy to be back at school this year, and are very eager to learn!

The school and playground.

The school and playground.

Melty Beads Bag Tags

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IMG_8173When L was a preschooler her teacher noticed that while she was advanced in many areas, her fine motor skills could use some improvement. The school gave me some ideas for things to practice with her to improve her fine motor skills to help improve her writing. One of their suggestions was melty beads, which I found under the brand name Hama Beads in Lincraft. These are little plastic ring-like beads that are placed on a peg board in the desired design and then the top is ironed to melt the beads together (with baking paper between the beads and the iron face to prevent the beads melting onto the iron!). Then once the beads cool down, the design can be removed from the peg board and displayed or used in whatever way one wishes. These melty beads were a huge hit with L. We have done many designs over the past couple of years, and it never seems to lose its appeal. Now A is also very interested in making designs with the melty beads.

L adding beads to her star peg board.

L adding beads to her star peg board.

Yesterday we used our melty beads to make some bag tags. A chose to make her bag tag in a heart shape, while L picked to use the star peg board. There are many different shaped peg boards available, and we only have a small selection. There are also lots of different coloured beads, which can be purchased as individual colours, or in various mixed packs. I have always bought  sets of mixed beads for variety, and L and A mostly like to place the coloured beads randomly onto their chosen shape.

A placing beads on her peg board.

A placing beads on her peg board.

As predicted, A made her two hearts in a completely random way, though L made some patterns on her stars. I wielded the iron as it is too dangerous for the kids to touch.

A's hearts.

A’s hearts.

L's stars.

L’s stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used a hot glue gun to attach a piece of ribbon to the back of one of the shapes to form a loop from which the tag could be hung. Continuing with the glue gun, I stuck the second shape back-to-back with the first shape, so that the ribbon was sandwiched between them. A’s two hearts went together nicely, and L asked to have her stars placed so that the points of one were between the points of the other. She thought this looked cool. The glue doesn’t take long to dry, so shortly after finishing the kids could attach their new tags to their bags.

We didn’t write their names on these tags, but they do help the kids to identify their own bag at school.

New bag tag hanging on A's backpack.

New bag tag hanging on A’s backpack.

L's new bag tag hanging from the handle of her backpack.

L’s new bag tag hanging from the handle of her backpack.