Tag: Education

Very Best For Kids

In case you’re wondering we’re not talking orange jam here. Marmalade is a toy meerkat given out by my eldest child’s teacher every weekend to kids in the class who have done well that week. I’m quite proud that my daughter got to bring Marmalade home on the first weekend of the new school year, it means she’s settled in to year 2 straight away and that’s always a good sign for the year to come. And she does love it when she gets these little rewards.

There is, however, a parental responsibility that comes with Marmalade, and that’s because he (or she, we’re not quite sure?) comes with a diary that needs to be completed by his weekend host, complete with photographs. As the school year gets completed the diary gets quite interesting to read and you can follow Marmalade’s adventures by reading the previous entries.

Being the first to host the intrepid meerkat during the 2013/14 year obviously means that all the other parents are going to read what we’ve treated Marmalade to. Lucky we are the family who goes last!

Teacher rewardsSo, on Friday night, Marmalade’s visit began in earnest. He was put in the doll’s high seat and served tea made of plastic food from the pretend toyshop and fed on plastic cups and plates. Such hospitality. Snap that photo!

Saturday morning saw Marmalade brave the swimming pool. Well, we had to explain that  just like ordinary cats, meerkats aren’t the biggest fans of water, so he decided to stay safe watching from the side rather than go swimming himself. It took some convincing. Still, he was an inspiration as my daughter braved a swim in the deep end for the first time.

Later on that day came another first. He went in the loft. The loft has always been a place of intrigue to both my girls, like the cellar, it’s somewhere they’d never been but always wanted to go. So, as we had some things to hide away up there, my girls, along with Marmalade made that scary climb up the ladder into the attic. Snap!

One begins to wonder what other parents will think when Marmalade’s big weekend adventure is going into the attic and having his photo taken next to an old guitar and shelves full of  junk we’ve not yet got around to eBaying. On the subject of eBay, I’m sure one of their slogans is ‘one person’s junk is another person’s treasure’ and this, of course, is how the girls, and I’m sure Marmalade as well, saw the loft.

See, the whole reason I went up there was to make space downstairs.You already know what I’m going to say now don’t you? And you’re right. Thanks to Marmalade (I’m sure it was his idea!) we ended up bringing more down than up. All those old toys we’d put away two years ago are now back in the playroom. Snap! Doesn’t Marmalade look happy in all this clutter?

Sunday. My daughter feeds Marmalade marmalade for breakfast. No-one at school on Monday will know just what a messy eater he is. His fur is spotless. Well, on a one hour cycle who wouldn’t be. Snap! He’s was a bit of a blur in that one!

The trip out today is to the Norland Scarecrow Festival. Norland is a small village perched high on top of a hill with fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. It’s quiet and peaceful – except once a year when the village seems to become a hybrid of  Summerisle from the film ‘The Wickerman’ and Madame Tussaud’s. Everywhere you look scarecrows have sprung up. In gardens, fields, driveways, in windows and as in the case of one Spiderman this year, scaling the walls of a house. This year’s theme was film and there was everything from a blow-up doll pretending to be Barbara Windsor in ‘Carry on Camping’ to Harry Potter.

The stars of the show had to be the characters from ‘Up’ and the Flintstones’ Car, replete with Fred, Barney and an audio of them talking.  Snap! That’s another one for the diary.

Then for a coffee and cake in Norland church, only to find Jesus had been replaced on the altar by Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion and the Tin Man. God help us! Mind you, coffee, tea, two fruit juices, four buns and a soup and a roll all for £7.00. You wouldn’t pay that at Starbucks!

And so ended Marmalade’s weekend. My daughter went home, wrote the diary, stuck in the pics and put Marmalade to bed.

Wonder what he’ll be doing next weekend?


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If you have kids who have begun reading early here are some really fun books to get them started.  As both a parent and a teacher, I’m only going to mention books that my own children have enjoyed and which I think have helped them improved their reading – and for very early readers this basically boils down to books from two sets of publishers.


Oxford Reading Tree Books for Early Readers

best early readers for childrenThe first is the Oxford Reading Tree set of books, published by Oxford University Press. These are excellent books for early readers which follow the funny lives of a group of children, their parents and a daft dog named Floppy.

The stories are written at different grade levels and become more challenging books as your child develops their reading skills.

The first books use very simple vocabulary and short sentences and the higher level books are written with more complex sentences and vocabulary and with a lot more words to read on the page.

They are delightfully illustrated on every page and, because they are in hardback, last a long time which helps when they get read over and over again. Ours have lasted through both children.

The first books use very simple vocabulary and short sentences and the higher level books are written with more complex sentences and vocabulary and with a lot more words to read on the page. They are delightfully illustrated on every page and, because they are in hardback, last a long time which helps when they get read over and over again. Ours have lasted through both children.

From a teacher’s perspective, I like them because they focus on keywords for reading development and the lower level books start with the phonics sounds your child will need to tackle first and before move to more complex sounds.

The illustrations give good guidance to what is happening in the story and because they follow the same characters it leads to the child having a better understanding of the story. There is also a book for parents which gives good ideas of how to use the books for developing reading at home and lists the kinds of activities you can do.

There must be a couple of hundred books in the range so it’s impossible to list them all here. However, you can buy them individually, in small packs of 6 or 8, which is how we started, or even in jumbo packs of 78, if you want a library full (which you may get through over a couple of years or so as your child improve’s their reading skills.

Get Oxford Reading Tree Books Here

Amazon.co.uk store

Very Vest for Kids USA


Early Reading


Usborne Books for Early Readers

The other publisher I have chosen for very early readers is Usborne. There are two sets of books we liked from this publisher. The first was their Usborne Phonics Readers which are funny little stories written in rhyme and which again focus on particular phonics sounds which children need to learn to read.

These too are beautifully illustrated and have opening flaps on some of the pages. The collected stories, ‘Goose on the Loose and other Tales’ and ‘Fat Cat on the Mat and Other Tales’ are the ones we have at home. These come with hard covers with padding, so they can withstand a bit of throwing around.

First reading booksThe other set of Usborne books is the Usborne Very First Reading Books. Like the Oxford books, they too are very well written and fun to read.

They are illustrated too and also get more challenging as children rise through the different levels. However, they use rhyme more frequently in how a story is told and unlike Oxford Reading Tree, not all the stories follow the same characters. Again, there are a lot of books to choose from, they can be bought individually or in box sets.




Get Usborne Books here


Very Vest for Kids USAAmazon.com



All opinions in this review are our own, however, we may be compensated should you make a purchase through the links provided.

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As a former English teacher, one thing I can tell you is that early readers do much better at school. They understand their books better, have superior writing skills, can express their ideas more articulately and they have a wider understanding of the world than non-readers. In addition, they enjoy learning, are highly motivated and are a step ahead of the class from day one.

But how do you get your kids reading early? Well, here are some helpful tips for you to try that have been proven to work.


1)      Use foam bath letters

kids reading earlyFoam bath letters are a great way to teach the alphabet and to learn the spelling of simple words. We used with our daughters from about 12 months old and within 6 months they could arrange the entire alphabet and write their name.

The best way to start is to let them play with the letters, but each time they pick one up, tell them what letter it is and the sound it makes. After this, begin to ask them to find letters. Once they can do this, the next stage is to sequence the letters on the side of the bath.  It’s a fun way to learn and children really enjoy taking part.

Very Best for kids UK  Cuckoo Alex Rub A Dub ABC And 123 Shapes For The Tub

Very Vest for Kids USA Alex Toys Shapes For The Tub – Abc & 123


2)  Reading with your kids

If you want to encourage early reading, it’s important to read with rather than read to your kids. To do this, make sure your child can see the book and trace the words with your fingers as you read out aloud. Although they won’t understand the words at first, they will begin to realize that the sounds are linked with the marks on the page and that you read from left to right and from top to bottom. Both of these are essential things to grasp before children can learn to read.

Once your child has learned a few letters, you can get them to spot them as you read. ‘Can you find the b?’

Another helpful hint is to use colourful books with lift up flaps or textured illustrations. These increase children’s pleasure and fascination with the books and help motivate them to read. As you read, remember to ask questions or get them to interact with the story. ‘What’s under the flap?’ ‘Can you find the rabbit?’ ‘What letter does that word begin with?’

3)      Join the library

A library is like an Aladdin’s cave for young children learning to read. Let them go and explore, open books, look at pictures and find books for you to read with them. If you can, don’t just take the books home, read them in the library too. It then becomes a world of adventures.Joining a library will also give you a better idea of what to buy for your home collection too.

4)      Choose the right books

There are countless children’s books available and choosing the right ones for your child can often seem an improbable task. However, here is a list of some things to look for:

  • colourful picture books
  • interactive designs
  • rhyming stories
  • phonics stories
  • relatively easy vocabulary (gradually getting more challenging)
  • good stories (this is a personal opinion)
  • books which tell a story in a few hundred words

For more ideas read our article Great Books for Early Readers

The more your child enjoys stories and books the sooner they will want to be able to read them for themselves. If they love one particular story more than others and keep asking you to read it, you may eventually find they know the opening off by heart. This is a great opportunity for you to ask them to read it to you. They won’t actually be able to read at first, but if they know they words and you point at the written word whilst they say it, they will soon associate the two, and this is one of the first steps to real reading.

5)      Book talk

Talking about books goes a long way to develop kids’ reading. Asking questions helps them understand the book and lets you know how well they are learning the stories. You can ask them about their favourite characters, what they think will happen on the next page, whether they like or dislike what has just happened. You can get them to tell their own stories based on the books you have read. All this will help develop an interest in books and learning and keep your child wanting to read.

6) Get to grips with phonics

Read our article about how to use phonics to help your kids start reading and find out how teachers do it.

Here’s some more tips:

8 Tips for Teaching your Child to Read

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