Bounce back to school and take control of the situation. Last week I shared books to escape into and books to evoke laughter. You can catch up with the Escapism and Humour Bounce Back to School blog here. This week I would like to think about taking control of the situation both personally and practically.

Much as some of your children (and maybe some of you) would like to wrap up in cotton wool and ‘shield’ themselves from reality, as Cottonwool Colin discovers, this is not a long term solution. This is a great story for encouraging shy children out of their shell or those who have become accustomed to staying inside all the time to go out and enjoy the world.

So how can we support children on this journey?

If we were looking for a simple answer to that question, I would propose knowledge and confidence. There are plenty of titles to support the building of both:

These books will give children confidence to be more proactive but another skillset they will need to develop is how to recognise how those in power make decisions, how they can impact on our daily lives and futures and how the media communicate what is going on in the world. As educators, we can equip children with the skills and resources to dispel the myths, quash the urban legends, demystify the diatribes and find the facts.

Fake News is sadly a side effect of modern society. Learning to navigate social media is a skill I am thankful I did not need to acquire until I was well into adulthood. Today’s children need to learn to identify and dismiss or at least question the exaggerations, the out of context statements and the potential hidden agendas. These are sophisticated skills that take time and maturity to develop but it is never too young to begin to consider the source of information, the communicator, location and purpose. 

The Week Junior and First News are excellent sources of current affairs. They filter out the fake from the fact and we would highly recommend incorporating the sharing of a news item as one of your daily Read Alouds.  However, children still need to learn to recognise embellished, exaggerated or blatantly incorrect news. 

There are some excellent books that highlight some of the issues raised in the media and political spheres.

Sam Hutchinson from the publisher of Question Everything recently joined Nikki Gamble In the Reading Corner to discuss this book and how it is a useful tool for developing critical literacy.  You can listen to the podcast and read a review of the title on our website.

These titles are useful for raising the specific issue of fake news and hilighting some of the things to look out for but the best way to develop this life skill is to learn how to think critically and develop both critical and visual literacy.  The Booktrust have reported that fake news won’t fool children who read and developmental psychologist Emma Kenny confirms that visual literacy can play a vital role in interpreting information. It is a skill that requires plenty of practise. It needs to be explicitly taught before it can become second nature and a method of understanding the world that builds confident and self assured individuals. 

Here at Just Imagine, developing criticality directly underpins most of our training courses and is the driving force behind two of our key resources Take One Book and Reading Gladiators.

Normalising the new normal

It struck me when watching an advert recently that the first impression of the human face babies born into the world in 2020 will be something like this. At first I was saddened by this thought but on reflection it occurred to me that for the baby in question it will be ‘normal’ – they won’t know any different. 

As I said last week regarding the normalising of wearing face masks, children adapt very quickly and they are used to change. They don’t stay in the same shoe size for long, they don’t have the same friendship groups, teachers or even classrooms for too long before a new change. I hope you will find children adapting to the new routines quickly and as many have seen this pausing of ‘normal’ has been an opportune time to reflect on current practice and introduce new systems.

The borrowing of books in the current climate does pose some difficulties, but librarians and teachers have already risen to the challenge. The official guidleines produced by CILIP and the SLA must be the first reference tool for anyone with responsibility for the school library. There are also many good ideas being shared by practitioners in the academic and public sectors. You can catch up with one such sharing of ideas hosted by Great School Libraries here. Some notable suggestions that I think are particularly useful for Primary schools are ‘Bubble boxes’ – teachers select books for their bubble including those relevant to upcoming topics and a selection of reading for pleasure titles to populate their bookcorners. The bookcorner itself operates safely within a bubble, so one solution may be to reduce traffic in your library and build up your bookcorners. Many Secondary schools are also offering a ‘click and collect’ or ‘click and delivery’ service.

If you are lucky enough to have an up to date fully functioning library management system this can be used to great effect as a method of children selecting books remotely.

Another practical solution is a Bookflix display board outside the library and ‘request a title’ shoebox.

Last week I mentioned the use of humour and reading aloud. Reading aloud is also a very practical solution to book sharing a the moment as only one person needs to touch the book but a whole class can get the benefit.

This could be part of a formal lesson by way of a visualisation excercise. Subscribers to Take One Book can get plenty of ideas from the strategy webinars on Visualisation which includes examples for using the mind’s eye, visualising a narrative and sketch noting and the Read Aloud webinar which looks at effective reading aloud, using read aloud for character inference and creating opportunities for reading aloud in the classroom.

Reading aloud to the whole class directly after lunch or at the end of the day can be a source of focus or calm. In addition to providing all children with access to books beyond their individual reading capabilities, the shared reading experience affords opportunities to address sensitive material and answer questions about any issues worrying the children.

Another practical solution to book sharing at the moment is the class read. We have noticed a surge in demand for class sets which of course solves the issue of germ transmisson.

Supporting Authors

Authors are notoriously brilliant at calling their readers to action, sometimes explicitly and sometimes through the power of story alone. Passionate people are also strong advocates for the issues they believe in, as can be seen through initiatives such as Authors for Oceans and the bring back ‘nature’ words campaign. Challenging positive action is an antidote to feeling out of control. So encourage children to take inspiration from authors – read those end pages, the author’s note about what inspired them to write the book. Direct children to authors websites to see what drives them and how they can get involved.

Authors may not sell us food or physically mend our bodies, but they certainly nourish our brains, our minds and our hearts and for that they should be applauded and fully supported. They remind us to question our leaders, our communities and ourselves. They inspire us to discover and follow our beliefs and values. 

Writers of children’s books are desperately missing school visits at the moment. In practical terms they are a source of income and in creative terms they are a much loved source of inspiration and motivation. Like the majority of artists and performers there are many authors keen and willing to maintain the connection with their audience. Jonathan Emmet has set up a website Virtual Authors – where you can find a wide range of authors who will Skype chat your children. If you are reading one of their books many will chat for 20 mins free of charge. They are also available for longer charged sessions which would be hugely beneficially in maintaining your school reading cultures and completely feasible within social disancing rules.

Here are some of the wonderful authors who you can access from Virtual Authors.

I was reminded recently in a tweet by Jamie Smart about the value of online reviews and how they really help promote author’s work. We are very lucky at Just Imagine to have an outstanding team of reviewers consisting of teachers, literacy specialists and academics such as Mary Roche, Jo Bowers and Martin Galway from Herts for Learning. We have been developing our Reviews page to include many award winning titles and incorporating both browse and search facilities. You can see over 500 titles analytically reviewed here.

I will leave you with some inspirational titles reviewed by our expert review panel and available for purchase in our online bookshop.

STAY STRONG! You are already doing amazing things and our door is always open to support you in any way we can.

STOP PRESS! Look out for this positive and reflective title published at the end of March.