See how easily you can use children’s picture books to improve your child’s reading and memory

My son is five years old. It is amazing to watch him learning to read. He is one of the lucky ones who has a natural aptitude for reading. He loves books and his reading growth, through the use of phonics, has been really noticeable. Now he tries to decipher every piece of written text he sees – from signs at the side of the road to screening notes which his teacher sends home from school to decide whether to hide them or not. Story time has changed at night time now. He wants to read the stories to myself and his little sister.

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I recently read an article from the Guardian that says that between the ages of six and eight children like my son turn their backs on picture books. In it Elaine Moss stated that children themselves sometimes found it hard to think themselves “good readers” if they were looking at pictures as well as text. This would be a shame for children like my son. Although he is very good at reading he, like his Dad, struggles when it comes to following instructions. Something in me finds it really hard to focus when listening to others. I guess it must be the same for my son. Maybe its a male thing.

One method to help him concentrate that the teacher recommended for him is to use the pictures after he reads a story as an aid for him to retell the story after he has read it. This is a great way of focusing a child’s mind.

As a special educational needs teacher I know that the use of stimuli can aid short term memory and the processing of instructions, making them more memorable. This is why picture books are so important for children of all of ages. I encourage all of my students, whether they have special educational needs, or not, to use the pictures and headings in their books to help them, more easily, memorise the content. One method is SQ4R. This stands for Survey, Question, Read, Record, Recite, Reflect.

Survey: The student should first look at the pictures and headings and guess what the content is about.

Question: The student should write a couple of questions that spring to mind about the text that they would like to find out. One easy way to do this if no questions come to mind is to turn the headings into questions: E.g. The Water Cycle: “What is the Water Cycle?”

Read: Read the text with the purpose of answering your questions.

Record: Take note of your answers to your questions in your own words.

Recite: explain in your own words to your partner, or the teacher what the main ideas were in the section.

Review: Critically examine the main ideas of the text the following day. Asking yourself questions like how can I use the information I learnt yesterday gives the student a deeper understanding of the main ideas and commits the text to long term memory. According to dearteacher.com children forget 80% of what they read within two weeks if they don’t follow the review step.

The ideas here can be used for children of all ages but is more useful for older children who need to memorise more things. It is a more efficient, and enjoyable method of learning.

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Picture books also provide safe opportunities to talk about sensitive subjects. Bunny Pulls It Off springs to mind. My daughter has an obsession with plasters. She often feigns injury so she can get a princess plaster. Bunny Pulls It Off is the story of the Bunny who gets a plaster on his knee after falling off his bike. Being a furry rabbit he avoids getting the plaster removed for fear of the pain. This nicely illustrated story provides an opportunity for us to discuss the folly of wearing plasters.

But most of all Picture books are made for children of all ages, are fun to read together, or on their own.

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Turbo charge your inventory management system

What system do you use to manage your inventory? What do you use to collate orders into picking lists? How do you manage goods inwards? I’d like to tell you about how we manage our inventory.

Over the last year I have been learning how to use FileMaker Pro. It is a program that has huge potential. This is one of its drawbacks. It takes a long time to master. But once you do you can use it to make a bespoke system tailored to suit your company’s needs that can grow and evolve with you allowing you to add features as you need.

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One of my favourite features is that I can access and update our stock on my iPhone. Our database is hosted on a server. So all information is always up to date. When I am in the warehouse, where we don’t have computers or broadband, I can receive an order on my phone, check its location, mark it as picked. This allows us to update stock levels. Filemaker Go for iPhone/iPad offers lots of potential. The container fields allow us to photograph book jackets and feed them to the websites where we sell our stock. You can see that containers also allow the user add audio, signatures and PDFs. Siri allows the user to add text using the phones microphone. I have CNS Barcode Reader integrated with our database. This nifty feature allows us to scan our books’ barcodes on the iPhone. It is a pleasure to use.

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FileMaker Pro is great for adding goods to our inventory. We programmed it to scrape information about our books from amazon. So when we add a new book we type in the ISBN and press a button. The rest of the information is scraped in a couple of seconds. The scraping feature is one of my favourite features. I’m developing our database to scrape our orders from amazon and our other market places automatically and getting it to push the orders to us. Isn’t this just the same as email? No. When I mark the order as posted FileMaker Pro will tell Amazon that the order has been shipped. Depending on where the order ids going I can get FileMaker Pro to email the customer just after the expected date of arrival of the shipment asking him/her for feedback – timely and effortlessly. It creates a really professional impression on the customer.

I’m also in the process of developing our database to scrape prices from bookfinder.com. I’ll use an algorithm to competitively price our books. You may say that what I am doing here can already be done by fillz or monsoon. The beauty here is that I can change how our price is worked out and I don’t have to pay a commission for the privilege.

I can send customers a snapshot link of our inventory based on a find according to my their preferences. The customer will receive this smart find in the form of an app.

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The interface is absolutely gorgeous especially after Filemaker introduced new themes last year. It is also easy to produce charts, from live, updating data, showing your best sellers, customers, regions etc.

Please let me know what your favourite features are of your inventory management system.

Live like a native on holidays… for free!

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Pamplona’s San Fermin fiesta offers something for everyone in the family

Being a part time teacher I’ve always been interested in ways of taking advantage of the long holidays. I read about home swapping in the Irish times two years ago and really liked the advantages that this inexpensive service, lovehomeswap.com offered. We could get to live like a native for free – anywhere in the world.I set about organising our home exchange.

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Our house on a typical Irish Summer’s day

I had to send about 100 emails before I met a family who we could swap with. They were in Pamplona in Northern Spain – the town where my wife is from. We organised a non-simultaneous exchange. Although this process is almost free (it costs €60 to register with the service) it involves a lot of work. We had to take appealing photos of our house. This was not as easy as it seems. The photos’  job was to make our house look appealing to tourists. We had to de-clutter the house before photographing it. We should also have waited for a sunny day to take the outdoor shots of the house. In Ireland there aren’t many of these. I didn’t have the patience and took the shots on a rainy day. At least my guests knew what to expect from an Irish summer. 

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Our apartment (in the background) was close to many great facilities


The resulting exchange gave us many advantages over a conventional holiday. We were able to be close to my wife’s family. But not too close. We had use of the exchange family’s car which – something we usually never have when we go to Pamplona. The children had the use of their children’s
 toys. They even left us their camping equipment in case we decided to venture out into the wild. We stayed in a part of the city that we didn’t know. It was great.

Camino’s (our hostess) apartment was an example of all that is great about high density, high rise living – everything was near. Their apartment was overlooking the central plaza. There was a playground downstairs for the children surrounded by lovely bars and restaurants, wafting out the aroma of pinchos (Navarra’s answer to mini tapas), wine, and (my favourite) egg and chips. We joined the local library, a five minute walk away.

The following summer it was our turn to make our house live up to its description. Fortunately we were able to leave all of our clutter in the garage for a few weeks. We wrote detailed instructions on how to work the various things in the house. This took about a day’s work. It was a bit stressful. 

All in all the home exchange offered us many advantages over a paid holiday. It was in many ways more comfortable than staying in a hotel. But it wasn’t as convenient as booking a holiday with a travel agent. 

Please share your money saving holiday ideas with me. If you have been on a home exchange where did you go? What was your experience like?

Your dream holiday…. for free!

I woke up with a heavy heart. 6:30am was too early to be getting up when I was on holidays. I slowly came to, had a shower and breakfast and we were off. It was a half hour journey to work. It wasn’t long before my mood changed. We saw an Emu, startled by the noise of our approach, race across the road, mystical in the haze. The sky was blue, the road sides were rusty orange. And it was hot – in January. I was with my best friend, Fergus, on our way to work in the Devil’s Lair Vineyard, Margaret River in Western Australia. We were on our way from Perth to Sydney and had stopped to take in the beautiful scenery and find out what it was like to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

Morning in Margaret Vineyard

Thanks to iStockphoto.com

There were many moments like this. I got to know other back-packers, energised by the break from their normal routines and quirky locals. We chatted while we worked in the sun. The air was always full of birdsong: the cuckaburra laughing, gollas warbling.

It is one of the nicest ways to get to know a place: a working holiday. The benefits: a unique, fully paid for holiday with free exercise, healthy eating, camaraderie and perspective.

Now I’m married with children, anchored to Dublin with a mortgage and few working opportunities. Are those days gone forever? No! I’m determined not to let this hold me back.

Teaching in Jaca

Teaching in Jaca

I’m restricted in my choice of working holidays. But there are still some available. My plan for Summer 2014 is to take time off and work in Spain. This time as an English teacher in beautiful Jaca. The children will be 5 and 7. I’ll enrol them in the attached school for Spanish lessons. Its a long way off. But I need to dream. What’s your dream holiday?

Ten ways to beat the recession and put more money in your pocket

Five years into the recession now and although there are signs that growth is returning in the Irish economy Ireland faces more pruning before we face more gentle budgets. This year’s budget was one of the harshest in living memory. Property tax was introduced. Child benefit was cut by €10 per child for the first two children. Many people are struggling to meet mortgage repayments and are in negative equity. It is my aim to share some of my money saving tips. But I would really love you to share yours too so that together we can get rid of our money worries once and for all. 

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Thanks to secrets-2-success.com.

  1. Rent a room out in your house. You may not have a spare bedroom at the moment. I moved our children into the smaller bedroom to free up some space. Foreign students are willing to pay for bed and board. We just a student stay with us for two months. Call your local TEFL academy and offer your services. They often have enquiries from students looking for accommodation. 
  2. If you find that you want to trade up but cannot afford it consider renting out your own home and renting a larger house. You may be able to rent a considerably larger home without having to deal with the bank.
  3. Talk to your bank if you are struggling to pay your mortgage. You may be able to pay interest only for a number of years.
  4. Don’t use your credit card for Christmas shopping. Only use your laser or credit card. Pay off your credit card bill in full every month. The interest on credit cards is considerably higher than other sources of credit. 
  5. Shop around for your presents. I priced a Lego set for €78 on the high Street. It was available on EBay for £38 + £10 postage – equivalent to €60. 
  6. The National Consumer Association advises that you make sure you are getting all of your tax relief benefits and/or social welfare entitlements. See revenue.ie, welfare.ie. 
  7. Make sure you don’t duplicate insurance policies. Nca.ie states that you may be covered for some elements of travel insurance by your health insurance provider.

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    Thanks to Financefox.ca

  8. Bring a shopping list to the supermarket. This cuts down on the temptation to impulse buy. I try and have a meal before a supermarket shop for the same reason. 
  9. Have a garage sale. Some of the junk in your garage is treasure to others.  Photograph the items and sell them on gumtree.ie and on donedeal.ie.

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    Thanks to Golden Nugget Flea Market

  10. Consider house swapping as a cheap holiday alternative. You can save on accommodation and car hire. You will also have many of the conveniences which hotels don’t offer in you host home. We house swapped two years ago with 1sthomeexchange.com and really enjoyed it.

I hope you can adapt some of this advice to your situation. Please share your comments and tips.

 

Check out these books: The Hutchinson Money Minder

Money Guide 

The Independent Woman’s Money Guide: Take Charge Of Your Finances And Make Your Money Work For You

Money Management

A Significant Irish Educationalist’s views on education are relevant to this day

Padraig Pearse

Padraig Pearse

I was listening to Marian Finucane’s podcast interview with Mark Patrick Hederman, the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, this morning. As I’ve mentioned before I’m a teacher and I find the topic of educational reform quite interesting. The Junior Cert is being reformed by the Department of Education and Mr Hederman had some comments to make about it.

He was lamenting the fact that to this day the primary focus of secondary education is rote learning.

He recalled Patrick Pearse’s description of the education system – a murder machine: a machine that creates fodder for industry and kills creativity in children. Its ironic that the economy is now calling for creative individuals to step forward and help us find a way out of this recession – while at the same time students are being rewarded with college places for their ability to memorise.

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Pearse’s progressive writings on education

This debate has been going on for a long time. From Dickens’ critique of the education system in Hard Times to Pearse’s writings on education as shown in A Significant Irish Educationalist – The Educational Writings of P.H. Pearseto the current debate. In this book you can see the devotion Pearse showed to the topic of

educational reform. He was a progressive thinker and prolific writer. Pearse will always be remembered for his leadership of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. But primarily Pearse was an educationalist.

What would he think now of today’s reforms of the Junior Cert? Would he laud Ruairi Quinn’s efforts

to boost literacy? Or would he see the compromise in the Junior Cert reform in the same way as Mark Patrick Hederman – doomed to failure?

Four ways to make reading with your children rewarding

I sat down with my son this evening and we tackled his homework together. He had Maths and some reading. As a part time Special Educational Needs teacher I know that for many parents and children reading is something that they struggle at getting to grips with. Thankfully my son enjoys reading with me or his mother every evening and is making steady progress.
Many children who have dyslexia or a reading difficulty have suffered years of failure and humiliation as their peers have left them behind. Many children, by the time they reach the age of 12, have given up trying.
I came across an interesting book last week by Patience Thomson called “101 Ways To Get Your Child To Read“. I really like its positive approach and its adoption of success and praise as a motivator to keep the struggling child trying. These methods work for the struggling child and as an encouragement to literate children to read more regularly.

20121114-202712.jpg 1. Choose a book appropriate to your child’s age and interests. Barrington Stokes produce low reading age high interest books for young adults. Children will be able to get through the text and, importantly, finish entire books. This gives them a rewarding sense of achievement.
2. Completing books is a big deal and you should give your child lots of praise. I made a video of my son reading a book and he gets great sense of achievement when I show the video to friends and relatives.
3. Another confidence building trick is to make a word bank for your child. This can be made out of an old tissue box. Each new word your child learns should be written on a piece of cardboard and placed in the box. Thomson explains that you should revise these words regularly to strengthen the child’s recognition of the words and use it as an opportunity for more praise.

Children enjoying high interest books

Children enjoying high interest books

4. Get your child to predict what the text is going to be about. This will keep your child alert as he reads the story and more able to comprehend the text.
Other books of interest are

Which School for Special Needs Guide to Independent Non maintained Schools Colleges Futher Education in Britain for Pupils Learning Behavioural Difficulties or Dyslexia

Oxford Reading Tree: Stage 2: Songbirds: Doctor Duck

Oxford Reading Tree: Stage 5: Songbirds: The Cinderella Play

Oxford Reading Tree: Stage 6: Songbirds: Clare and the Fair