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We built a zoo…

Inspiration often strikes when we have a billion tonnes of recycling to use up! After so many trips to IKEA recently, we have a serious surplus of cardboard. Whilst we always recycle, it seemed like a shame for these huge canvases to be immediately consigned to the yellow bin.

With another baby on the way, I’m not as up for massive messy projects (literally really, since I can no longer hoist myself off of the floor!) so we made use of the dining room table to make ourselves a zoo. This project was inspired byDiscovery Table Week 8: Zoo! Continue reading We built a zoo…

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Books About Babies

If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you might already know that we’re expecting baby number three to arrive in April. To help Zoey (2) adjust to this huge change, we’ve gathered together a collection of books about babies. Some of these books were gifted from friends and relatives whilst others have been bought especially.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

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As you can probably tell by the slightly tattered appearance of this copy, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes was one of Zoey’s very first books. Its something of a bedtime favourite in our house and regularly gets chosen from the bookshelf!

What we love:

  • The repetition (which is really beneficial for young children)
  • Celebrating babies from all over the world.
  • The gorgeous illustrations by Helen Oxenbury
  • Fox’s rhyme and rhythm which makes it a fabulous ‘read aloud’ option.

 

That’s not my baby… by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

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Who doesn’t love an Usborne ‘That’s not my…’ book? The multi-award winning series must be a favourite in households across the globe because Usborne launched the 50th title (That’s not my unicorn) in late 2017! We are such huge fans of this sensory series and we started collecting the books when Harrison (now 8) was a baby.

What we love:

  • The sensory interaction – particularly the mirror at the back.
  • The simple repetition makes it appealing to toddlers – Zoey already mimics the story.
  • Compact nature of the book which means it can easily be stashed in a change bag.
  • The relative longevity of the book – both babies and toddlers love this series! Zoey now likes to ‘read’ it herself and spot the little mouse on each page.

 

Hello Little Babies by Alison Lester

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Alison Lester is a legendary Australian children’s book author, so when I saw ‘Hello Little Babies’ on ABC Kids program ‘Play School’ I knew we had to buy it. Lester shares the feeding, sleeping, moving, exploring and playing habits of six gorgeously illustrated babies. I thought this insight into the routines of different babies would help Zoey adjust to the introduction of a newborn.

What we love:

  • The celebration of how different babies can be.
  • The exploration of baby routines in the first year.
  • The beautiful and appealing illustrations.
  • Hello Little Babies makes for a great naptime/ bedtime reading option (ends on ‘Goodnight little babies.)

 

What Does Baby Want? By Tupera Tupera

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I’ve breastfed both of our children so far and hopefully i’ll be able to do the same with baby number three. To try and help with any emotions Zoey might feel as a result of this, I specifically ordered ‘What Does Baby Want?’ I had seen the book pop up on my Instagram feed several times and I thought the simplicity would be just right for a two-year-old to grasp.

What we love:

  • Great for helping toddlers to understand what little babies need – milk!
  • The simple illustrations
  • The book promotes breastfeeding, but not in a militant way!

 

Snuggle the Baby by Sara Gillingham

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Snuggle the Baby is another book that has been featured all over Instagram and another that I ordered specifically for baby prep! We adore the interactive features which again helps Zoey to understand the basics of baby care.

What we love:

  • The tactics shared in the book are ones that work in real life!
  • Helps to develop empathy
  • Interactive features on every page. Zoey’s particular favourites are feeding the baby and tucking her in for bed!

 

Peepo! By Janet and Allen Ahlberg

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I can’t honestly say that I would’ve originally featured this ‘modern classic.’ To me it seems a little dated in terms of illustrations and parental roles, but after I put it out on our discovery table, I realised that Zoey absolutely loved it! First published in 1981, Peepo! has been a popular choice for generations. In fact, I do vaguely remember it from my own childhood!

What we love:

  • The little peep- through holes
  • The rhyme and repetition makes it a great read aloud option
  • For older children, could be used as an opportunity to discuss family history. This is often a popular topic in the early years of primary education.

Want more? Check out the following posts:

Discovery Table Week 1: Baby Clinic

Five of our favourite board books…

How we’re raising readers

 

 

 

 

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Kids activities for when you don’t feel like adulting…

Here’s a quick guide to how we cope on sick days. This was a post I was going to write last week, but ironically I was feeling too ill to write it! It’s been a pretty rubbish few weeks in the Thomas household: first I was hit by a yucky virus, then the boy ended up in hospital with breathing difficulties. All of this meant that our usual schedule of days packed with process art, long walks, trips to the zoo and detailed play set ups went by the wayside.

Admittedly, it’s not been an easy few weeks. All I’ve honestly wanted to do is veg on the sofa whilst binge watching season 7 of Game of Thrones, but that just isn’t possible with a busy toddler by my side. As for the 8 year old, all he’s really wanted to do is watch Stampy Cat and iBallistic Squid videos on repeat which is enough to drive anyone insane. So whilst most of these activities are targeted at toddlers and preschoolers (who are more likely to be with you when you’re sick, a lot will work for big kids too!)

Whether you’ve got winter blues, flu or even morning sickness, here’s a few activities that have worked for us over the last few weeks. Although as a big fat disclaimer here, we do watch our fair share of Disney Pixar movies on sick days – I would hate to pretend otherwise!

Here are 10 activities you can try with the kiddos whilst you (or they) are sick, along with some sneaky educational skills that will take minimal effort on your part. That’s what I call a parenting win!

 

Small World Play

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Our old trusty favourite!

On a weekly basis, we change up our small world scenarios but on sick days we like to keep it simple. There’s probably nothing better than getting out the trusty Fisher Price Little People play sets. Zoey’s had hers for almost a year now and it’s still a firm favourite whenever we play with it.

This beautiful fairy grass from Little Sprout is another big winner: all you really need to do is add in fairies or woodland creatures and you’ve got a gorgeous play set up all ready to go.

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Not everything we do is made from scratch. This fairy grass came ready made with flowers and toadstools. Just perfect for minimal fuss days!

 

Sneaky skills: 

Small world play is an important part of the early years curriculum. Here are some of the skills your little one will learn whilst playing: language development, fine motor skills, development of imagination, problem solving, independent play and cause & effect.

Tea Party

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Who would’ve though pouring tea would be so interesting?

We absolutely love a good tea party in our house – the best thing about them is the fact you can sit down too! The dollies and stuffed animals join in for a picnic on the rug – Zoey pours the tea using her super cheap Fisher Price talking teapot and we all have a merry time pretending to eat cake. Although i’m all for real cake too, particularly on sick days!

Sneaky Skills: 

However twee a tea party might sound, this type of role play is again hugely beneficial for toddlers. It’s a way of learning early mathematical skills (learning to share out food and count); language skills also make a reappearance here – I swear Zoey says please and thank you in the right context because of all the tea parties we have! Again, this is also another way of boosting imaginative skills, fine motor skills and cause & effect too.

 

Stickers

Pre-toddler, I never particularly saw the point in stickers but now I see their endless entertainment value. They’ve proven their worth in cafes, on long plane journeys and on sick days too. Zoey loves nothing better than peeling them off and sticking them (repeat x100) With older kids, try something cool like a sticker scene or even a mandala.

Sneaky Skills:

Occupational therapists swear by stickers – in fact,The OT Toolbox  love them!Benefits include: boosting fine motor skills and hand strength, developing creativity and coordination.

 

Crayoning

If your toddler is anything like Zoey, then you’re gonna need an art option: the girl cannot go through a day without using crayons or paints! In this instance, we use Micador wax crayons along with a huge pad of paper. We just set up on a mat in the lounge room and have fun doodling away. For the big kid, colouring books always go down a storm.

Sneaky Skills:

Fine motor skills (which will eventually lead to pencil grip), concentration, colour recognition and hand/eye coordination.

 

Felt

The inhabitants of Thomas Towers absolutely LOVE felt. Preferably, we make up our own activity, but on the days where we just cannot face creating  something new, we turn to our Tiger Tribe safari set. This is a really neat little box that is also ideal for travel and cafes too.

Sneaky skills:

In a similar vein to stickers, felt is great for boosting hand strength, fine motor skills, creative thinking and coordination. The feel of felt also adds a nice sensory element too and if you’re making your own from scratch, you can include scissor skills into the mix.

 

Blanket Forte

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Our little homemade tent went down an absolute storm with both kids. All I did was gather together some wooden poles with string and attach a bed-sheet with pegs – okay it didn’t last as long as  the store bought versions, but it was fun to make and provided a nice excuse to snuggle!

Sneaky Skills: 

Problem solving is a certainty here! We took quite a while figuring out how to keep the tent stable. It’s also a great way to work on team building skills too.

 

Lego/ Duplo

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We are major Lego fans here. We always buy sets as birthday/ Christmas presents and on special occasions too. I don’t mind saying that after Harrison had his stay in hospital, I felt he deserved a little bit of Lego as a pick-me-up. Not only is Lego just brilliant as an educational toy (fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, following instructions), we love that it can be played with in so many ways too.

Sneaky Skills:

Lego and Duplo are undoubtedly great for working that hand strength and fine motor skills. It also helps boost problem solving and mathematical skills too. Moreover, it’s a great way of learning to follow instructions along with a lot of creativity too!

 

Outside Time

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Depending on the weather, getting outside might be the last thing you feel like doing on a sick day, but I’ve always found that it makes me feel much happier afterwards – even if it does just end up being a 5 minute respite.

The sandpit seems to have a certain appeal to both kiddos. Whilst the traditional bucket and spade option are always fun, we do like to mix it up with small world scenarios. Both kids worked in harmony (no easy feat with a 7 year age gap) to create this beach rescue scene recently. It took Harrison’s mind off being poorly and meant he got some fresh air without really realizing it!

Sneaky Skills 

This is basically another addition to the small world play options, but you can also add the benefits of being outside in the fresh air which will give your wellbeing a boost!

 

Magnets

I promise you this is not an advert for Tiger Tribe, but my goodness they do make some awesome occupiers! All of our sets were predominately bought for travel purposes, however they are also brilliant on sick days too. The compact nature of the sets means minimal mess for you – so big thumbs up for when you’re not at your parenting best! Much in the same vein as stickers, there’s something super appealing about the on/ off aspect for toddlers.

Don’t have a Tiger Tribe set? Traditional fridge magnets and a metal baking tray will work just as well.

Sneaky Skills:

Again, really similar to stickers and felt with regards to fine motor skills and hand strength development. Depending on which activity you choose, you might also be helping to boost language and numerical skills. The animal set we’re just in the picture below, is pretty much a compact version of small world play too!

 

Reading

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If your voice feels up to it, snuggling up on a comfy bed with a stash of your favourite books always works a treat – especially if you can team it up with the nap-time schedule. It makes a nice welcome break from the wackiness of kids television (personally the noise and colours drive me a little cray-cray, especially if i’m the one who is sick!)

Sneaky Skills:

Reading is without a doubt one of the best ways to boost language skills. Just the very act of reading and pointing out pictures is one of the best ways of helping your mini one to learn.

 

So that concludes our activity guide of things to do when you’re feeling like absolute rubbish. Don’t by any means feel guilty if you only want to watch films all day (we definitely do that too). This is just here for those times when you are slowly being driven insane by the mundanity of being sick. Got any other suggestions? Feel free to comment below!

 

 

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Five of our favourite board books…

When it comes to reading, the younger you start the better. We’ve been reading to both children since they were babies and it’s paying off: our two little bookworms love nothing more than a story. Once you’re past the black and white fabric books, there’s plenty of choice. Here’s a rundown of our current favourites – see if you can spot the re-occurring theme throughout!

 

‘That’s not my…’ series from Usborne books.

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Okay so I said top 5 and I guess it’s cheating to choose an entire series, but how could I possible single just one out?! They’re an obvious choice, but also a fail safe one, especially since over 20 million copies have been sold worldwide. ‘That’s not my puppy’ was published over twenty years ago and there’s a total of 51 different books in the series ranging from unicorns to planes! You could pick up any one of these books and your toddler will probably love it – Zoey’s personal favourite is ‘That’s not my baby’ because of the little mirror at the back! ‘

Why should you buy? 

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This series is popular for a reason: these ‘touchy feely’ books are a great early introduction to sensory play and the vibrant colours really appeal to older babies and toddlers. Zoey started sustaining an interest in these books when she was 6 months old and they’d be suitable up to the age of 3. Whilst the repetition tends to drive parents mad, it’s actually really beneficial for babies and young toddlers. The familiarity is not only comforting but also helps young children to master new skills too.

 

‘Where’s Mr/Mrs…’ series from Nosy Crow

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Nosy Crow are fast becoming my favourite publishers of children’s books.  One of the main reasons is to do with design: I’m a big sucker for illustrations and to be honest, when it comes to children’s books, illustrations are kind of a big deal! We’re all in love with the cute animals on each page and the mirror at the end of each book is a nice touch. We have three of the ‘Where’s Mr/Mrs’ books by Ingela P Arrhenius because Zoey is pretty obsessed with the ‘lift the flap’ format. The flaps are made from vibrant pieces of felt which adds to the whole sensory experience.

Why should you buy?

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Whilst repetition is of course a good thing, variety is a necessity! Arrhenius still has the magic formula of repetition plus sensory element which as mentioned above, is so beneficial to toddlers. The colour palette is vibrant and the illustrations fun, which is bound to be a big hit with your little person!

 

Circle, Triangle, Elephant! by Kenji Oikawa & Mayuko Takeuchi

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I am so in love with this book (and so is Zoey which I guess is what truly matters here!). Circle, Triangle, Elephant! is a fresh approach to the classic toddler shape book – I think Kenji Oikawa and Mayuko Takeuchi are total geniuses for coming up with a clever, funny and simple approach to learning shapes. The Phaidon publishing group are becoming my go-to for arty books that would also double as wonderful presents – I have my eye on several of their children’s books, so if anyone feels like gifting me a few, just comment below!  😉

Why should you buy?
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Let’s be totally honest here, the usual toddler shape book is super dull. By mixing in total randomness like elephants, boats and hats, it becomes hilarious! Such a simple idea, but a brilliant one too. What I love the most about this book is that no words are needed, so Zoey drives the way we read the book: she points to the picture and I read. Of course, what makes it funny to young toddlers is the expression too, so prepare your best ‘straight out of drama school’ over exaggeration!

 

A B See by Elizabeth Doyle

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There’s no other way to describe this book other than to say its completely gorgeous! We have our fair share of A B C books and this is by far the best i’ve seen (please do comment below if you can top it!). Doyle moves away from the traditional ‘A is for alligator’ approach and has instead created a visual masterpiece. This book is part hide and seek, part sensory wonder.

 

Why should you buy? 

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We’ve taken this book on holiday several times and it never gets old. In fact, it’s our number one choice when space is limited. There are so many ways in which you can use the book: from a literal ABC book to a spot and find adventure. We love the fact the pictures are raised, making for the perfect sensory experience for little hands. Even the big kid loves this book as some of the pictures are quite a challenge!

 

Listen to the Birds by Marion Billet

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Another book out of the Nosy Crow publishing house (I told you they were fast becoming my favourite!) ‘Listen to the Birds’ is a sweet sound book that is just perfect for toddlers. Zoey absolutely loves interacting with this book – she can press the sound buttons easily and the birds actually sound like real birds too! As I’ve come to expect from Nosy Crow, the illustrations are beautiful in their simplicity and the colours get another big thumbs up from us!

Why should you buy? 

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The common running thread among all the books I’ve mentioned is the interactivity. Again Zoey is able to take ownership of her reading experience by pressing the sound buttons herself. Engagement is so important from an early age and having a sensory element will always do the trick perfectly. When I shared this book over on Instagram, a follower mentioned that her older children now enjoy trying to identify birds by their calls, all because of this book. Don’t you just love it when you can extend the life of a board book?

Have you got any other recommendations for board books? I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments section!

 

 

Want more? Try the following posts:

How we’re raising readers

Books About Babies

 

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How we’re raising readers

There have been a lot of articles recently on how to raise readers so I thought i’d add my two cents to the pile! Harrison loves reading right now, but it hasn’t been a straightforward journey. Reading is a subject that is close to my heart: I studied the subject of boys and reading engagement for my Masters assignment whilst training to become a teacher. Some of that insight helped me with Harrison’s own reading journey, but it’s also been trial and error both in the classroom and at home.

Start them young:

 

I bought Harrison his first book when he was just a few weeks old. The husband thought I was crazy: how is a baby who barely opens his eyes able to engage with a book? Anyway, I persevered and read the black and white ‘Animal Sounds’ book everyday. Eventually Harrison was able to take an active interest, helping me to turn the pages and even point to the animals. In time, he moved onto mimicking the animal sounds and naming the animals themselves. Books have a direct impact on language development. Perhaps more importantly, sharing a book is a really lovely way to spend time together.

Read daily:

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This comes in many forms: read to your child, share read a book or  let them read to you. Also, show them good reading behaviours by engaging in a good book yourself. Children will quickly catch on if you don’t read, but are asking them to! Now you might simply read one book, one time through but if mine are anything to go by, you’ll find yourself repeating Dear Zoo or The Hungry Caterpillar several times over. Young children love the repetition and this also helps them to learn.

Read a bedtime story:

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I guess this really links in with the above, but read your children a bedtime story until they no longer want one. Your kid will love this special time with you and it’s also a brilliant part of the bedtime routine. A comment from a 7 year old boy I interviewed for my MA will always stick with me:

‘My parents say i’m too old for a bedtime story. I miss that time.’ 

I honestly felt heartbroken. I found it pretty hard not to dissolve into tears right in front of him. Now i’m not actually judging his parents here: they must’ve genuinely thought he was too old – perhaps he was an excellent reader and deemed independent enough to read by himself? However, I resolved to always read a bedtime story to Harrison unless he told me not to.  Currently we are reading our way through the Michael Morpurgo back catalogue.

Share read:

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When your kids are older, start to share books with them. By this I mean read a page / paragraph each or take on the roles of different characters. This can make reading, for emerging readers in particular, much more enjoyable. By becoming characters (through expression of voice), emphasising particular words and even stopping for punctuation, you are providing your children with the skills to read aloud. There may be days when the kids come home from school exhausted and reluctant to read so instead of pushing a reluctant reader, you can try the shared technique.

Forget about levels:

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Seriously, it’s the best approach to surviving those early years. Admittedly I was a little preoccupied with Harrison’s levels when he first started school (as a year 6 teacher I was all about data for a while), but when we eventually abandoned home readers in favour of his own choice of books we all had a much more enjoyable time of it. Ironically, it was when Harrison started school that he got turned off reading. He didn’t get phonics (he still doesn’t use the strategies despite being a really fluent reader now) and absolutely HATED the levelled readers. Hardly surprising since most were published in the 1980s! That being said, please communicate any worries you have over reading with the class teacher.

Hand the power over:

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In our favourite bookstore: Harry Hartogs

Let your child choose the book. Visit the library or go to the bookstore, but let them have the ultimate power. I once saw a man shout at his son and get completely furious all because he disapproved of the book choice. Now if that’s not a way to turn off a young reader, I don’t know what is! Now that’s not to say you can’t influence the choice at all. You could get them to choose between three or even check suitability by asking them to read a few lines first. If the book would currently be too mature or too difficult you could always try saying ‘That’s a good choice but lets leave it until you’re a little older’ or ‘That book looks wonderful, we’ll read it as our bedtime story.’

Join the local library:

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Neon Leon was BRAND NEW from the local library. It’s one of our favourite finds so far.

Once your kid gets the reading bug, they’ll get it full on! If you’re not careful you’ll be bankrupt within a few weeks, so sign them up to the local library. Most libraries are tragically underused, meaning you’ll also be doing your bit to save them! You will not believe the amount of brand new books we’ve picked up from the library recently. The pressure is off to a certain extent too because it doesn’t really matter if they don’t like the book either.

Make reading relevant:

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Exploring Asia before a recent visit to Singapore.

Don’t ignore the  non-fiction. Going on holiday soon? Bring out the atlases and world maps. Just been on a visit to the zoo? Check out some books on mammals. Is you kid asking some random question about the weather? Try browsing through books rather than immediately reaching for google. You’ll also be teaching some great research skills! On a recent holiday to Britain, we got out all of the travel book we could get our hands on.

Find a series or genre and run with it!

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Harrison has read and re-read this series countless times.

The first book that Harrison read all by himself and LOVED? Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey. He quickly worked his way through the entire series, then the Weirdo novels by Anh Do followed by Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Treehouse books. The common theme is that they’re all hilarious (to an 8 year old) and most importantly, still contain illustrations. Never underestimate the power of illustrations – it doesn’t mean the book is too easy but it does certainly help young readers to engage with the book.

Turn books into art projects:

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This Mog mask provided hours of entertainment!

Engagement through art? Yes please! Sometimes you just need another avenue and themed weeks or projects are a great way to do this. When we focused on ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ one week, both kids (aged 18 months and 8 years) got so much out of it. Not feeling confident directing this kind of project? Try KidArtLit’s beautiful monthly boxes. or follow along on Instagram for beautiful ideas.

If all else fails, try another way:

e reader
Older readers can find e-readers more engaging

I fully believe that this should ONLY be used as a last resort, when you’ve tried all of the above and more, but if your kid is still hating on books, try an e-reader. I would only recommend this for older children because I think that ‘real’ books should be used in the early years (i’m also not a fan of reading apps on iPads).  However, full transparency here, I do have a Kobo and I absolutely love it!

Please remember that these views are entirely my own: the observations are from my own experiences as a parent and teacher and the studies I have done around boys and reading. A summary of that research will be available here soon. If you have any concerns around your child’s reading, please contact the class teacher first, especially if you suspect dyslexia might be the cause of your child’s reluctance. If you have any extra input on raising a reader, please comment below as i’d love to hear from you! 🙂