Wednesday 30 May 2012

What is the Diamond Jubilee?

Garden Girl is given a piece of 'talk homework' every week. She is basically given a topic to talk about with us and then she writes down all the interesting things she finds out to hand in at school. This week is no surprise when the topic was the Diamond Jubilee. This is what we found out...

  • The Diamond Jubilee is a celebration for our Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, because she has been Queen for 60 years.
  • 60 Years is a very long time to rule a country and that is why it is something we will celebrate. 
  • Only one other Queen ruled England for 60 years and that was Queen Victoria. Her Diamond Jubilee was over 100 years ago.
  • No English King has served as Monarch for 60 years. (Monarch is a word we use to refer to ruling Kings and Queens).
  • Queen Elizabeth II was 25 years old when she became Queen. There was a big celebration at Westminster Abbey, called a Coronation. At this celebration the Queen wore her crown for the first time.
  • All over Britain people will be having parties to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. There will be street parties, picnics in parks and fun events and activities, all held in honour of our Queen.
  • Over 2000 beacons (small fires) will be lit across Britain and other countries with links to Britain to celebrate the Jubilee. 
  • Beacons used to be lit to communicate over long distances. People from neighbouring towns and villages could signal to each other using small fires which can be seen over long distances.
  • We no longer need to use beacons to signal to each other, so they are now used to show friendship and unity across the country. Each beacon that is lit, is a symbol of friendship between the people of Britain and beyond and a show of support for our Queen.
Garden Girl wanted to know why only two Monarchs had managed to rule for 60 years so I told her that in the past, Kings and Queens did not live as long because they did have the same medicinces or knowledge about health that we have today. In history, there were also a lot of people who wanted to be King or Queen. Sometimes they would fight a King or Queen so that they could take the crown and rule the country themselves. One King, King Edward VIII, stopped being King because he fell in love with a woman whom he wanted marry more than he wanted to be King. When a Monarch chooses not to remain King or Queen, is is called abdicating.

The next question Garden girl asked me was how a King or Queen is chosen. A new King or Queen must belong to the same family as the current King or Queen. Usually it is the eldest son of a King or Queen, so Prince Charles, is the eldest son of Queen, so he will be King after Queen Elizabeth. If, for any reason the eldest son does not become King, then the next eldest son will become King. Only if there are no sons, does a daughter become Queen. Queen Elizabeth II became Queen because she had no older or younger brothers.

If I were a Queen (I can dream!), it would be Garden Boy that would become ruler after me, even though Garden Girl is older, because boys are always chosen before girls. Garden Girl thought this was very unfair. I told her they were considering changing this rule to let the eldest child become ruler, whether they are a girl or boy, so it is possble she will be see another piece of Royal history in the making. 'I hope they do', was her response.

There is a lot of really interesting information on the Official Diamond Jubilee website, here.  It really is worth a look. I suspect we will be revisiting this website quite a few time over the coming weekend!

Enjoy your Diamond Jubilee Celebrations!

Monday 28 May 2012

How to Choose a Good Counting and Numeracy Book

There are lots of books available that help young children learn to count. The important thing when learning how to count is repetition and practice and books let children practice their counting skills without them really knowing they are doing it.

Here are some of the things you should look our for when you are choosing a good numeracy book for young children:
  • The story and illustrations should be just as engaging and enjoyable as any other picture book you enjoy with your child, otherwise neither you, nor your children, will want to return to it.
  • Choose counting books that display the numerical form of numbers clearly. It is just as important for children to learn how to recognise numbers, as it is for them to learn how to count.
  • Look for books where the items to be counted are scattered across a page in a non-uniform pattern, or are hidden amongst other objects. This will give them good practice at hard counting.
  • If your child is a reluctant counter, look for character books that will engage them. Flaps, knobbly bits, noisy buttons and holes for fingers are also a good way to get your child actively involved in the book.
  • Don't forget that early maths is about more than just numbers. Shapes and organising objects by size are an important part of the early foundation stage curriculum so look for books that introduce these topics as well.
  • Look for books that will grow with your child. Are there opportunities for your child to do simple addition or subtraction with the book or does it help children learn how numbers are applied, such as telling the time or measuring things?
Browse the shelves, read through the books with your children in the shop before your buy. Our local bookshop has an area for reading with children and any decent bookshop will be happy to see you engaging your children in the choosing process. The real test of any children's book is whether or not your child enjoys it! But if you want somewhere to start, here are some of the counting and numeracy books we have particularly enjoyed.

Ten Little Ladybirds by Melanie Gerth and Laura Huliska-Beith
Ten Friendly Frogs by Sally Hobson

These books have bumpy, raised ladybirds and frogs on the pages that my little ones love to touch and count. Because they want to touch them so much they won't let me point and count. They insist on doing it themselves. The text is also engaging, with simple rhymes. Large numbers appear on each page so the children can learn what the numbers look like, as well as counting them.They also introduce the idea of subracting one from a number, as the books count down. Our copies of these books are falling apart at the spine because they have been so well used. In fact, Garden Lass has just run away with them and is counting frogs as I type!

Counting Colours by Roger Priddy

This is my favourite counting book and is one to use when your children can confidently count to ten. Each double page is covered with a mix of objects of the same colour. The child needs to find 9 blueberries amongst all the other blue objects, or 6 purple dresses amongst all the other purple objects. It is harder than you might think, but a fantastic way of getting them to count objects, rather than just reciting numbers. All the objects are of different sizes so we also use the book to find the biggest goldfish on the page, or the smallest apple. Being able to order objects by size is one of the things your child will learn in the foundation stage so this is a really useful book to help them.

Count with Thomas, A Lift the Flap Book

Garden Boy still enjoys reading this book and will often pick it up himself to look through. This is mainly due to that fact that it is character themed and if you are struggling to get your children counting, a counting book based around their favourite TV characters is a real incentive for them. I like this one in particular because when they have counted the objects they lift the flap to reveal a clear number, which helps them learn what the numbers they have counted look like. Recognising numbers is as important as being able to count, so good number books will show children clearly what they look like.

Nursery Time with Winnie-the-Pooh, A First Lift the Flap Book

This book has been a popular choice for all three of my children and has much more in it than just counting. There are flaps about colours, recognising shadows and fun rhymes. There is a double page of flaps with things to count. When your child lifts the flap they reveal the number in its numerical and written form and as children always lift the flaps this is a great way of familiarising them with the numbers. There is also a great bit in the book which describes what Pooh oes at different times of the day and I use this with Garden Girl, who in reception is just being introduced to the way we tell time. We have dipped into this book at various stages with all three children and they all continue to use it, enabled by the fact they have not grown out of the characters.

We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns

This book is beautifully illustrated and is a joy to share with my children. They love counting the animals and whilst Garden Girl is now beyond books which only count up to ten, she continues to love this book, both for the story and illustrations, but also for the fact that it introduces uses the idea that in other parts of the world people use different words for numbers. She loves learning how to count in Swahili and the book does tell you how to pronounce the Swahili words which helps me!

The Ants go Marching, illustrated by Dan Crisp

Whilst we have been reading the rhyme in this book for a long time, we have only just started to use it with Garden Girl to illustrate the idea of multiplication. It is a lovely book to introduce the idea of 'repeated addition' and Garden Girl is always impressed when there are ten rows of ten ants covering a page. It is a charming book to help explain a difficult concept.

If you have any brilliant numeracy books you would like to recommend, let me know. We love discovering new books!

Saturday 26 May 2012

Why are Ladybirds Called Ladybirds?

Garden Boy frequently asks me why things are called what they are and most of the time, a name is just a name for no particular reason. However, Ladybirds were reportedly named after the Virgin Mary. Our native Ladybird is red, with seven spots, the link being that the Virgin Mary is often depicted wearing a red cloak. The seven spots of a ladybird represent the seven sorrows and seven joys of Mary. The Virgin Mary is often referred to as 'Our Lady', hence 'Ladybird'. The 'bird' part of the name, I can only assume comes from the fact that ladybirds have wings and can fly.

When I passed this on to Garden Boy I simply told him that Jesus' mother, Mary is shown, in lots of pictures and statues, wearing a red cloak, just like a Ladybird. People frequently call, Jesus' mother 'Our Lady' and so the name Lady was given to the bug because it reminded people of Jesus' mother and her red cloak. And the bird bit is there because a ladybird has wings and can fly like a bird.

I refrained from mentioning the seven sorrows and joys as I didn't want further questions about the sorrows, but had he gone on to ask about the spots I think I would have told him that seven sad things and seven really fantastic things happened to Mary and the seven spots remind people of these. 

There are lots more interesting facts about Ladybirds on the UK Ladybird Survey website here.

Thursday 24 May 2012

The Magic 'e'

In phonics, vowels are usually pronounced like this:

a as in cat
e as in bet
i as in fit
o as in hot
u as in hum

However, there are many words in which they are actually pronounced like their letter names (that is the way they are pronounced when you recite the alphabet). One of the occasions this happens is when a syllable has an 'e' on the end.

For words with one syllable, whenever there is an 'e' at the end of the word, the preceding vowel is pronounced like its letter name, rather than phonetically. For example,

a-e: gate
e-e: these
i-e: mine
o-e: cone
u-e: tune

The rule also applies where there is an 'e' at the end of a syllable within a word, such as spaceman, where the 'e' at the end of 'space' changes the preceding 'a' to its alphabet pronunciation.

In addition to changing the sound of the preceding vowel, the 'e' in these circumstances becomes silent.

I explained the rule to Garden Girl by telling her that an 'e' at the end of a word, or syllable, has magic powers. It can make a vowel earlier in a word, change sound. The vowel always changes to its alphabet sound. The 'e' then makes its own sound disappear. So, when you are reading a word with a magic 'e' on the end, you never need to sound out the 'e'. Similarly, I told Garden Boy the magic 'e' was a naughty alien.

Garden Boy has picked up on this rule much faster than Garden Girl, mainly because he loves the idea of a naughty alien changing sounds, but with a simple prompt such as 'Look at the end of the word - what do you see?' Garden Girl will usually manages to work it out. They both currently need prompting to break words down into their syllables and look at the last letter of the syllable, but I know that by prompting them to work it out themselves each time, they will eventually begin to recognise the rule.

I have also told them both that if they have sounded out a word and it doesn't sound quite right, try changing the vowel sound to its alphabet sound. It isn't always the reason the word doesn't sound right, but more often than not it is the reason, so it is always worth a try. I prompt them with the question, 'What might you try changing?' and they take it from there. This is a more general rule but one that is easier to apply and remember by a 3 and 5 year old.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Why Are Apples Crunchy?

I'm not sure I have really managed to answer this question, although I have satisfied Garden Girl with an answer of sorts. The actual question Garden Girl asked was 'Why are apples crunchy and bananas soft?' and I couldn't really find out why the two fruits have different textures. This is what I told Garden Girl...

Apples and bananas are fruits. A fruit is part of a plant or tree and is there for two reasons.

1. Whilst the seeds of a plant, or tree, are developing, a fruit protects them from animals, birds and the weather.

2.When the seed is ready to grow into a plant of its own, the fruit helps the seed disperse. That is, the fruit helps the seed find somewhere suitable to grow.

While they are growing, seeds are in danger of being eaten by animals and birds, or of being damaged by the weather. However animals (and humans) do not want to eat fruit until they are ripe. Thus a fruit does not become fully ripe, until the seed is ready. The fleshy part of the fruit, the bit we eat, grows around the seeds to stop birds and animals getting at them and to stop the seeds getting damaged. If an apple gets hit, the skin and flesh is bruised but the seeds stay safe. The soft part of a banana, similarly protects the seeds inside.

There are lots of different kinds of fruit. Some, like apples and bananas, have juicy flesh to protect the seeds. Some, like peas, have pods to protect the seeds inside. Some, like nuts have hard, dry shells to protect the seeds inside. Conkers and sweet chestnuts have a prickly fruit to protect them. 

When the seed is ready to grow into a new plant or tree, the fruit ripens. The fruit no longer needs to protect the seed. It must now find a way to spread the seed. Instead of trying to protect the seed from animals, the fruits now want to be eaten. Apples and bananas change colour to attract birds and animals.Now that they are ripe, the fruits have the flavour and texture which will make people and animals enjoy eating them.

Birds and animals cannot digest the seeds, so when they have eaten the fruit, the seeds pass through the body and come out with the poo. Animals poo in the soil where the seed can grow into a new plant. And even better than that, the animal poo acts as a fertilizer to help the seed grow, in the same way that we use manure and compost in the garden to help our vegetables grow. So apples are crunchy and bananas are soft because this is the way animals and people like to eat them.

Other seeds are scattered by the wind. Dandelions have little parachutes so they can float away and sycamore seeds have wings so they can fly away from the parent tree to a suitable growing place. When pea pods split open the seeds burst onto the ground ready to grow into a new plant. Spiky fruits will stick to the fur of animals as they pass by, dropping off sometime later, hopefully somewhere where the seed has room to grow.

So, back to the original question and I guess the answer is that apples have a crunchy, juicy flesh because this is the best protection for seeds, against the particular animals and weather to which an apple tree will be exposed. A crunchy texture is also the most appealing to people and animals who want to eat the fruit and thus help spread the seeds.  

Bananas are soft for the same reason. Banana bushes grow in different weather conditions to apple trees and are exposed to different animals, thus a soft fruit offers the best protection for seeds against these animals and conditions. When the fruit is ripe, a soft banana offers a more appealing texture to the animals and people that want to eat them.

Garden Girl seemed happy with this explantion but I am a little bit curious about what it is that makes an apple crunchy. Is it the amount of water that apples contains? Is a banana softer because it contains more starch? I really don't know and I failed to find anything useful in library books or on the internet, so if anyone knows the physical reason for why an apple is crunchy and a banana is soft, please let us know.

If you want to learn more about fruit we found these books really useful:

Flowers, Fruits and Seeds (Plants) by Angela Royston

Flowers and Seeds (World of Plants) by Carrie Branigan and Richard Dunne

However, there seemed to be quite a few books about fruit and seeds in our local library so if you can't get hold of these ones there is bound to be something useful.