Chrome for Kids

These days, learning to use a computer is as essential as learning to read.

I know, many will consider a controversial thing to say but I really believe it. Students (of all ages) need to use computers in almost any subject and most future careers require at least some computer use.

With our daughter turning seven this year, we decided to buy her a laptop. She’s had use of a second hand iPad for a long while but we wanted her to get used to a keyboard, which she mostly avoids on the iPad. We also wanted her to to have experience of different operating systems, since at home we only use Mac.

We decided on getting a chromebook for the following reasons:

  • She’s quite familiar with the operating system since she uses it at school already.
  • They come pre-loaded with anti-virus software so you don’t need to worry about it yourself.
  • You can set up parental controls – very important if she’s going online.
  • Lightweight. We wanted something she could easily carry around for herself and could be taken out of the house.

There are loads of options available. We picked the Lenovo N22-20 Chromebook. It’s very lightweight and even has a handle – very convenient for a seven year old to carry it around with limited risk of it being dropped. It’s got a decent battery life – up to 14 hours according to the Lenovo website and I will say that we’ve found it doesn’t need to be charged very often, though I haven’t actually timed it. It’s also has a rotating camera on it, which is a nice feature and great fun for kids.

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Sadly, I do have a rather large complaint to make of the Chrome OS. The parental controls are rubbish. I know that sounds blunt and harsh and usually I’m the kind of blogger to try and play up the positives of products but seriously, it’s rubbish.

In order to set up parental controls, you need to set up an account as the parent and then a ‘Supervised Account’ for the child. This is already a bit annoying. But nothing compared to the fact that you can’t access apps from the supervised account. Seriously. My daughter can’t access applications from her own user account on her own laptop.

Also, the internet parental controls are seriously lacking. I’ve gone through the tutorials, I’ve checked advice from Google and various people on online forums but essentially what I’ve got is a situation where she can look at whatever the hell she wants and all I can do is check up on it later. What on earth is the point of that?! Please Google, sort this out. ASAP.

However, she does love it. Luckily there are plenty of websites with great content and stuff for her, like the CBBC and CBeebies websites. Plus, she can access Google Docs, since that’s website based, so she can practice her typing. This week, during half term, we’re going to look at Scratch, the website based application for teaching children to code.

So my overall impression is that Chromebooks are useful, lightweight and simple machines for people who just want to use the internet, email and the odd application. As something for a child as their own computer, it’s a bit disappointing but, might still be the best reasonably priced option available.

Catch up: An Ending and a Beginning

So it’s been a pretty busy time around here.

Pip turned seven a few weeks ago. We had a family event for the actual day; just a little tea party with some visiting relatives. Then the following weekend, she had a few friends over for another tea party. This was an opportunity (excuse might be a more accurate term) for me to design personalised placemats and invitations and little thank you notes to go into the party bags. I hadn’t quite anticipated just how much noise a few six & seven year old girls could make but still, a good time was had by all.

Then last weekend, I attended my graduation ceremony at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. It was brilliant. I will admit to being slightly nervous that I might trip and fall straight into the orchestra pit in front of the stage but I actually managed to avoid this, which really felt like as much of an achievement as attaining a degree. The robes were a little awkward but overall, made me feel a bit like a student at Hogwarts rather than the Open University. Anyone who knows me will know how happy that made me. Husband was graduating at the same time and looked extremely dignified in his robes, which didn’t keep slipping off like mine did. I’m not the kind of person to feel very proud of myself about anything but I genuinely felt rather smug for nearly a whole day. After six years of hard work, I think I was entitled to that.

Just before my graduation, I got a tweet, totally out of the blue, about a rather exciting opportunity. Long story short, I’m now the local editor for the Bubele newsletter for Cardiff. It’s fortnightly and I promise it’ll be packed with fun stuff for families in the Cardiff area. My first newsletter will be emailed out on 2nd November so do sign up! Bubele is also an app with lots of listings for family fun throughout the UK – I recommend downloading it and signing up for whichever newsletter covers your area. I certainly like having activities lined up, equally for the school holidays and for those long weeks of monotonous routine in between so I really feel like this is a useful tool for any parent.

I’m feeling uncharacteristically positive about all of the above. My little girl is getting ever bigger and brighter and more brilliantly unique. I’ve achieved something I never thought I’d be able to. I’ve got a new opportunity for writing more. Everything’s just bloody marvellous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes a children’s book ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Today’s blog post has been inspired by my university studies. I’m studying children’s literature and at the moment focusing on what people consider to be good or bad books for children.

For my own child, I often pick or suggest to her books that I read and enjoyed when I was young, such as the works of Roald Dahl. I’d like to introduce her to Enid Blyton next and I’ll probably recommend Jacqueline Wilson as she gets a bit older. As she gets into her teenage years, I’ll encourage her to read some classics, like Austen, Bronte and some more modern works like Orwell but I wonder how much she’ll ignore me and read contemporary books instead. How much should this really bother me?

One thing that’s really surprised me in my studies is discovering that Dahl and Blyton, the very books I’d consider to be very good books to suggest to my own child, were seen as having low literary and moral standards pre-1960. Debates from the time about whether these books might be bad influences on our children remind me a great deal of the debates over the influence of violence in films and video games that have been going on for the past couple of decades (and show no signs of ending).

On first thinking about it, I couldn’t really think of a book that I would disapprove of. But now I’ve realised that’s not quite true at all. I often steer her towards books that might provide her with more of a challenge, not wanting her to get something too simple. I might tell her and myself that it’s because I think she’ll get bored of something too simple but is it really because I’m drawn to the idea that every reading experience she has should be an improving one? I have once or twice surreptitiously gotten rid of books that I’ve found to have grammar or spelling mistakes, while despairing of whichever publishing company let these through the editing process.

Am I worrying too much about what my child reads? Or is this exactly what, as a parent, I should be doing? Isn’t it my responsibility to make sure she’s getting the best experiences possible? I find it difficult at the best of times to find a balance between guiding her in the right direction (or at least what I perceive as the right direction) and letting her be independent. She’s a very strong-willed person and I’m happy with that, especially as it took me years of purposefully forcing myself to be more assertive to be even slightly sure of the choices I make. But I know that being strong-willed might lead to a tendency of not listening to other opinions, of being blinkered to your own view of the world which you are convinced is the correct one. I definitely don’t want this for my daughter. Again, it seems to be a matter of balance.

I’m very interested to get opinions from other parents (and indeed anyone who chooses books for children in any capacity) on this. Do you choose books for your children or just let them pick whatever they like? Do you attempt to steer them in certain directions regarding what they read? Are there any books (aimed at children) that you would not let your children read or at least would strongly disapprove of?

Happy Chinese New Year!

Celebration days are a great opportunity for learning about other places and cultures. So today, because it’s Chinese New Year, we’ve been learning about China and Chinese culture.

We watched video clips on the internet about people living in China. The CBeebies website is great for finding videos on a wide range of subjects, all aimed at younger children. These taught Pip a lot about how Chinese people celebrate Chinese New year and the meanings behind their customs and traditions.

We used the Barefoot Atlas iPad app to find China on the globe then found out lots of facts about places and culture in China. I really like this app because it’s great either to use for looking at a specific country and getting an idea of where it is in the world but also for Pip to explore alone, finding places in the world that she wants to know more about.

For lunch, I made a yummy sweet and sour vegetable stir fry. Unfortunately it wasn’t a meal that Pip could join in with making but she did enjoy watching me make it and talking about all of the different ingredients.

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In the afternoon, we made Chinese style paper lanterns, decorated with stickers and glitter glue (really they should have been red but these were the colours we had in our crafty box).

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We’ve had a great time learning about China today. Happy Chinese New Year everyone!

10 ways to Learn at Home

In the past, I’ve blogged a lot about teaching Pip at home and we even considered home education for a while. In the end, we made the decision to send her to school but that doesn’t mean the end of learning at home!

I’m very much of the opinion that education can and should continue at home. And no, I do not mean doing homework! Children learn through everything they do and there’s no need for it to be boring or hard work. Most of Pip’s reading, writing and maths skills have been learnt at home, plus lots of other knowledge about the world around her. So here are our favourite ways to learn at home:

1. Tabletop Games 

If you read this blog regularly, you might have seen this one coming! Tabletop games are extremely varied and fantastic for developing all kinds of skills, from reading and maths to important social skills like cooperation, taking turns and being a good sport – whether you win or lose! My recommendations include Roll For It, Hoot Owl Hoot, Skunk Bingo and Race to the Treasure. There are also story card games, like Tell Me a Story, which are great for creativity and logic and also a card game called Foodeeze, a kind of food top trumps which is brilliant for teaching about healthy eating.

Tabletop games

2. Worksheets

I know this might sound boring but it really doesn’t need to be. I keep a selection of letter and number formation, simple maths sums and filing in the missing letter sheets for Pip to do at times when I need to do some housework or cooking or just when she wants them. She gets a real sense of achievement from completing them and I often give her a little sticker as reward. I make many of my own worksheets but I also use Twinkl and other internet resources for them.

3. Barefoot World Atlas App

This is my favourite app for children and it’s been immensely useful for teaching Pip some geography and about other places and cultures in the world. She loves just exploring it on her own or we use it together. I ask her to find countries or to show me where you’d find certain animals. Where she’s taken a particular interest in a place, it’s led to lots of other research and learning. It’s a really good educational resource.

4. The Internet

Used correctly, the internet is the most valuable source of learning available and teaching a child to use it is, I think, vital. We regularly choose a topic and use the internet to research it, looking at photos and videos to really engage Pip. Recently it’s already started helping with homework she’s given from school. Sometimes it’ll lead us to printing off things for her to do like colouring in or worksheets or just a picture of something that’s really interested her to keep. I’m planning to paint an decorate a small cardboard box for her to keep things in such as pictures we’ve printed, her drawings and anything else that she’d like to keep.

5. Books and the local library

Pip owns a large number of books. Most are storybooks, some are non-fiction books on various subjects. She has a set of books designed for helping her learn to read. We regularly visit our local library to find more books to read. I try to encourage to pick up at least one non-fiction book while we’re there too. From books, she’s learnt about volcanoes, where our clothes come from, about different animals, history, geography and, her favourite subject, dinosaurs.

Books

6. Local leisure centre

Physical activity and social skills are essential parts of education. Of course, school provides plenty of both but I think it’s a good idea to have social time and exercise outside of school too. We go swimming at our local leisure centre and Pip went to a Halloween party there last year but I don’t feel like I’ve taken as much advantage of the facilities as I should. I’m already planning to take her to at least one activity session there during half term, when she’ll inevitably be missing her school friends.

7. Museums & Local Places of Interest

If you look around your local area, there are lots of often low cost educational opportunities. For example, Cardiff, where we live, has two museums just in the centre of town, plus a castle which is free for local residents. Within not too far a distance there’s also Techniquest and a Wetlands Reserve in Cardiff Bay and St Fagan’s Museum to the west of Cardiff. There are also lots of events and activities going on all the time. Pip’s favourite days out usually involve at least one museum visit and a trip to Cardiff castle to see the owls that live there. It’s a great hands-on way to learn and gain knowledge in new ways.

8. Parks

Teaching children about nature and wildlife really requires an outdoor space. With no garden, we go on regular walks in our local park. It’s all about encouraging her to notice things – talking about different seeds and things we found on the ground, being quiet for a moment to hear the different birds, talking about how things have changed with the seasons.

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9. Art and craft

Creativity and expression are very important in child development. In every topic we learn about, I try to think of a creative activity associated with it. I also let Pip freely express herself creatively too. We use paints, pencils, crayons, play dough and beads. I love watching her come up with her own ideas then work out how to carry them out.

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10. Preparing Food

Cooking and food preparation are important life skills, plus it involve lots of other skills – following a recipe involves reading, thinking methodically, using scales to weigh ingredients. We make sandwiches, pizzas, pastries and lots of other simple meals, plus lots of baking! It’s also a good way of talking about which foods are healthy and why and what a healthy meal should consist of.

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How do your children learn at home? Please share any ideas!

Learning to Read: Songbird Series

I love to read. I was always a quiet child and often had my nose in a book. While Pip isn’t at all a quiet child, she does seem to have picked up the same love of books. She’s always been very enthusiastic about reading and that made teaching her at home simple and really enjoyable. Her reading level, according to teachers, is now where they’d expect her to be at the beginning of Year 1 and it’s definitely her biggest strength.

The only problem was that she often became frustrated when she gets stuck on a word and, after attempting to read it herself, has to ask me. I tell her the word, explain any tricky grammar which made the word hard for her and move on. But after that, she’s always a bit unhappy and less likely to really try with any other words she doesn’t immediately know but that usually she could work out on her own. If she makes more than one mistake or struggles more than once in a book, she’ll more than likely ask to stop altogether. I realised that what she needed were books that she could read entirely without much help from me.

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So I was really pleased when she was given the Songbird set of reading books for Christmas. They are all written by Julia Donaldson, who we already know and love for The Gruffulo, The Gruffalo’s Child and Monkey Puzzle, amongst many others. They are structured in stages so that the child can progress as they learn, at their own pace. The stages are colour coded so it’s easy for Pip to choose a book of her level on her own. They are really nice stories but told in small, easily read words and phrases. The illustrations are all great and by a variety of artists and in different styles which adds a bit of interest.

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Pip began reading the First Stage books and was so proud of herself when she read an entire book by herself for the first time. Now we try to read one book every day, either from the set or one that she brings home from school. She really enjoys it and its lovely to see her actually enjoying the story rather than struggling with reading. You migt notice that some of our copies have gold stars on – that’s our reward system, Pip gets a gold star every time she reads a book without any help. I don’t want to rush her but I think I’m going to start introducing the second stage books now. I’ve had a look at them and I really think she’s ready for it.

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I can’t recommend this set enough for any child learning to read – they’re just brilliant!

Reading with Pip: Five Favourites

Pip, like most five year olds, loves books. She’s got a big wooden box in her bedroom packed with them, plus we take regular trips to the library and before long, she should be getting books coming home from school (at the moment she just gets weekly homework). I thought I’d share just five of her favourites with you.

  1. Calm down Boris! by Sam Lloyd

This book takes pop up to a whole new level. The lovely fluffy Boris hand puppet poking through the book really brings the story to life and allows the reader to really interact with it. Pip really loves this. She can pretend to feed, brush, hug and kiss Boris, plus shout out the repetitive phrase of the book – ‘Calm down Boris!’

Calm down Boris

2. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

This is the first full novel that I’ve read to Pip. I absolutely loved Roald Dahl as a child and was very keen to introduce his work to Pip. When I borrowed this book from our local library, I didn’t actually expect us to get through the whole thing, especially not as quickly as we did. Pip isn’t really the kind of child to sit patiently for extended periods of time but she was really engrossed by this story and always begged for ‘just one more page, please!’

James & giant peach

3. An Amazing Snowman by Barbara Jean Hicks

This book is about Olaf, the snowman from Frozen. From watching the film, Pip became very fond of this loveable character and I knew she’d love the book so it was one of her birthday presents. It doesn’t exactly have a narrative, it simply tell you all about Olaf. There are lots of two and three letter words so Pip can join in with reading this one herself. I think my favourite part of this book are the illustrations, they really are beautiful.

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4. The Sniffles for Bear by Bonny Becker

This is a very funny story about a bear with a cold whose perhaps making a bit more of his illness than is really necessary! Pip giggles through this one every time we read it, though that could be in part because I do make an attempt at putting on voices for this one!

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5. Snow Bears by Martin Waddell

A really sweet little story about three cheeky little bears playing in the snow. This one will be particularly nice to read when winter comes. Again, it contains some really gorgeous pictures.

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What are your child’s favourite books?