Pets as therapy – in books and in action!

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When Madeline Finn and the Library Dog arrived from Old Barn Books, it was clear this was a very special book.  The story, written and illustrated by Lisa Papp, features Madeline Finn a little girl who really does not like to read – at all.  Madeline struggles with reading so she really does not enjoy it, especially when she has to read aloud at school.

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So when she meets Bonnie the library dog at her local library, something quite wonderful happens. Madeline stops worrying about getting it wrong; she stops worrying about being stuck and she learns to be patient with herself. Bonnie makes her feel that it’s okay to go slowly and Bonnie doesn’t laugh at her like the other children in the class do so Madeline can practice her reading aloud without any worries.  And on the day when Bonnie isn’t there to help her, Madeline pretends that she is and reads so well that she even gets a special star from her teacher!

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Madeline Finn and the Library Dog perfectly illustrates how some children struggle to read and how those struggles take away any joy they might discover between the pages of a book.  Madeline could have been any number of children I have worked with during my career as a librarian – I wish I’d had a library dog on hand to help.  What an amazing way to help a child feel more confident in themselves!  Beautiful illustrations depict the frustration and joy Madeline experiences and of course, bring to life the gorgeous dog Bonnie. This really is a lovely book and one that could help struggling readers understand they’re not alone and those who can read well feel more empathy with those who can’t. For every copy of this book sold Old Barn will donate 50p to support the work of the Read2Dogs programme run by Pets as Therapy.

It seemed a huge coincidence that at the time of receiving this book, I heard that the school my son attends, Warden Park Secondary Academy, had got a therapy dog.  I wanted to find out more so I’m delighted to say that the teacher behind the scheme, Amanda Bell, joins me on the blog today to share how this came about and the impact the gorgeous dog has had so far. Welcome to the blog Amanda!

Tell us how you came to have a therapy dog at Warden Park. The idea originated from setting up the garden space which was an area developed through an ASDAN course we were running. Part of that project led us into getting chickens and ducks. I watched the impact these animals had on bringing the children into school but also taking responsibility for their care. I wanted to see how I could engage a wider audience through animals and so researched the organisation ‘Pets as Therapy dogs’ and then contacted schools that already had a therapy dog. This enabled me to research into the impact of a dog in classrooms.

How did you go about finding/choosing the right dog? I researched the breeds – mainly for their temperament in working with children but also with regard to their ability to be trained and came up with a Springador which is a cross between a Labrador and a springer spaniel.

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Tell us about her! We decided to call our dog a name that links with the Forest as this was another initiative we had recently brought into the department. This would mean that we would not favour a particular child’s name – however, we did find out that we had one child with this name so I asked him if he would mind if we called our dog after him! We first brought our therapy dog into school at just ten weeks old to get her used to the noise and lots of different people. We also secured the help of Michelle Garvey from Essentially Paws who has already trained eight school therapy dogs. She did a few training sessions with me and then I worked on this over the summer holiday. At nearly seven months old, Oakley is now involved with individual students, tutor groups, interventions and staff book her for lessons in a variety of subjects. We have a ‘puppy points’ scheme where students have a card that they can collect points on essentially for acts of kindness towards each other, staff or the environment. Once they have accumulated some points, they can earn free time with Oakley, teaching her tricks or just being with her.

What is the main purpose of your therapy dog? Oakley helps with the well being of the students and just has a ‘feel good factor’. Classes respond with calmness. Some teachers have a group task where they present/read to Oakley. For some students, they are able to express how they feel more readily to the dog than a member of staff! Research has shown that during interventions, students are more likely to engage with the sessions and attend than without a dog present. We will be gathering data to measure impact. Oakley will also be around the school at lunchtimes and breaktimes and allows students to engage with her who may not have a pet at home.

How have the students responded?  There must be a queue to see him at times! Students have engaged really well with the dog. Their role is to ensure that they take control and make her sit before stroking her. They also have to ask if it is OK to stroke her before doing so in case she is in training or on a toilet break. They really love her being in their class and many students have collected a puppy points card. Each week, Oakley writes a blog in the newsletter and currently there is a little competition for students to identify where she is from a photo.

Would you encourage other schools to do the same? It can be time consuming in the first few months and it is essential to get the training right so that the dog learns to respond appropriately to students. However, only a few months in we would definitely repeat the experience as there have been many more benefits that we had not anticipated!

Thank you Amanda. I think the work you and Oakley are doing sounds like an incredible opportunity to support and encourage students in school in a completely unique way.  

Find out more about the above book and pet therapy at www.lisapapp.comwww.petsastherapy.orgwww.wardenpark.co.uk

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

Discover creativity at the Bookchat Roadshow!

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The Bookchat Roadshow is an event for parents and carers with children of ALL ages. We want to inspire and encourage those attending with practical advice and ideas to support children’s development as readers and writers from birth right through to teens!  So we’re delighted Discover & Be will be on hand to chat to parents and carers about any Early Years concerns and advise about general teaching and learning worries for primary school age children.

Discover and Be logoDiscover & Be is an exciting educational service providing hands-on, creative experiences for children. As well as weekly multi-sensory messy play sessions for 0-4 year olds, they also offer academic and music tuition.

Rhiannon and Sheila, the co-founders of Discover & Be, share a passion for hands on, creative learning experiences. Their goal is simply to make learning meaningful and inspiring for children.  As the word ‘educate’, from the Latin educare, ‘to lead out’, suggests, Discover and Be aims to focus on not what is put into the child, but what can be led out of each individual. Sheila says:

“We are passionate about reading and sharing stories with children of all ages (even grown up ones).  The Roadshow provides a great platform for parents, teachers, authors and reading experts, to get together to share ideas and experience.”

Discover & Be also has a team of qualified, experienced and passionate tutors who provide bespoke 1 to 1 private tuition across Sussex.  Their tutors champion creative hands-on learning, with the primary goal of engaging the child’s interest to help pupils of all ages reach their potential.  This approach not only achieves fantastic results, but ensures that lessons are fun and meaningful for the child.

“Reading really is the gateway to the curriculum so making it fun and interactive is the best way to get children excited about it.  We love teaching phonics as these sounds are the building blocks that form reading. Empowering children with phonetical skills and watching them build sounds into words is amazing.”

Discover & Be’s weekly messy play sessions are themed, sometimes around a topic such as transport or the rainforest, for example, or often exploring a particular book. Rhiannon and Sheila feel it is important for all sessions to include a shared story with interactive aspects, thereby helping a story come to life. By engaging both the children and parents/carers in this way, reading for pleasure is encouraged and different approaches to sharing stories are explored.

“We feel it is important to access all learning styles and engage all abilities in this way, in order for each child to develop holistically and achieve the most out of each learning experience. We hope that our name ‘Discover & Be’ reflects this philosophy.”

Sheila will be joining us at the BookChat Roadshow on Thursday 20th July so do bring along any questions you have about making learning fun!

“The Bookchat Roadshow gives everyone the chance to come and chat about reading, phonics and writing too. This is definitely something we are proud to support. No matter how old you are, what could better than discovering a new exciting book that you can’t put down???……Chatting about it with your friends of course!!! So what are you waiting for? Get reading books and getting chatting about them.”

Parents and carers in the Sussex area with children of all ages can register for FREE to attend the Bookchat Roadshow, an event bringing together authors, industry experts and people passionate about children’s reading and writing for pleasure.  With inspirational talks and an author panel bookchat, plus a selection of exhibitors, we give parents and carers a huge range of ideas to help them support their children’s creativity. Speakers include author Nikki Sheehan and also the team behind Scoop Magazine. The next event takes place on 20th July 2017 at Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.  

For more information please visit www.thebookactivist.com.

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Supporting creative writing at the Bookchat Roadshow!

 

The Bookchat Roadshow celebrates children’s creativity and inspires parents and carers with ideas to support their child’s reading for pleasure and creative writing.

inkpots.smallWith this mind, I’m pleased to welcome Inkpots Writing Workshops who are participating in the Roadshow and will be on hand to give advice about encouraging creativity through stories. Founded by Gill Pawley, Inkpots Writing Workshops offer children age 7 – 12 the opportunity to express themselves through words and pictures in a secure, supportive environment. Their fun workshops are open to all young writers and artists; they provide after school clubs, workshops and specially-designed sessions for schools. New for 2017 is their online club, Inkpots Inc.  Gill presented on creative writing at the inaugural event last October and will be exhibiting at this event:

“Inkpots is delighted to take part in the second Bookchat Roadshow. It’s a real pleasure to support this initiative to encourage children’s reading and writing”

For more information, you can visit their website www.inkpots.org or email gill@inkpots.org.

Parents and carers in the Sussex area can register for FREE to attend the Bookchat Roadshow, an event bringing together authors, industry experts and people passionate about children’s reading and writing for pleasure.  With inspirational talks and an author panel bookchat, plus a selection of exhibitors, we give parents and carers a huge range of ideas to help them support their children’s creativity. Speakers include author Nikki Sheehan and also the team behind Scoop Magazine. The next event takes place on 20th July 2017 at Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.  

For more information please visit www.thebookactivist.com.

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Celebrating nature and creativity at the Bookchat Roadshow!

Spending time in the great outdoors can be a great way to encourage children’s creativity, so I’m delighted that Nature Nuture Sussex are participating in the Bookchat Roadshow next month.  Nature Nurture Sussex provide forest school sessions for pre-school and primary aged children, and their families in Mid Sussex and will be sharing their ideas and work with Roadshow visitors:

Nature_Nurture_Sussex_logo_RGB“We are delighted to be a part of the Bookchat Roadshow! At Forest School children have the freedom to explore, have fun and be inspired by the natural world around them – the ever changing natural classroom definitely feeds their imagination and their creativity. We love to hear the children talk about their time in the woods, and the real (and imaginary!) creatures they find there, making up stories, games and art outside.”

Parents and carers in the Sussex area can register for FREE to attend the Bookchat Roadshow, an event bringing together authors, industry experts and people passionate about children’s reading and writing for pleasure.  With inspirational talks and an author panel bookchat, plus a selection of exhibitors, we give parents and carers a huge range of ideas to help them support their children’s creativity. Speakers include author Nikki Sheehan and also the team behind Scoop Magazine. The next event takes place on 20th July 2017 at Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.  

For more information visit www.thebookactivist.com.

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Countdown begins….

Exactly one month from today, the Bookchat Roadshow will be rolling into town!

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The Roadshow brings together a whole host of wonderful people to inspire parents and carers with ideas for supporting their children’s reading for pleasure and creative writing.    Visiting Harlands Primary, in Haywards Heath on 20th July, it’s an event not to be missed!  After the success and positive feedback of the inaugural event last year, it was clear to me that parents and carers welcome this support. We all like to be inspired, especially when it comes to helping our children.

Nikki Sheehan, the Carnegie nominated author, will be sharing her experiences and talking about creative writing.  The team behind Scoop Magazine will be talking all about their love of stories and how they encourage creativity.  I’ll be sharing lots of ideas for encouraging a love of reading. And most exciting of all, Nikki Sheehan will be joined by Jenny McLachlan, Jamie Thomson and A. F.Harrold for an author panel bookchat.  I cannot wait to ask our fabulous panel to share their insight into stories, reading and writing.

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As if this wasn’t enough, there will be a group of brilliant local organisations exhibiting with advice for parents and carers covering a whole range of areas from creativity through nature to dyslexia.  And all parents and carers attending will receive a wonderful goody bag filled with giveaways from children’s publishers.  So what are you waiting for?! Register online now! For more information visit www.thebookactivist.com

 

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Libray-versary: a decade in school libraries!

This time ten years ago I took my first steps as a School Librarian. I can’t actually believe it’s been ten years.  It was never my plan to work in a school library, dare I say it?! But I’ve always been a reader and always loved books. I loved visiting the public library as a young girl, taking out as many books as I was allowed, devouring them one after another.  This was where I discovered some of my favourite authors –  causing a few raised eyebrows as I took out virtually an entire shelf of books by the same author!

I’d had various ideas about what I wanted to do when I grew-up, but as is often the case life happens and plans change or adapt.  When I did my degree, I recall thinking the Classification unit was really quite boring and I would avoid the Dewey System if I could…! I worked in events management initially after University and as a ‘born organiser’ (as my parents would say), this suited me very well and I loved it.  The arrival of children meant it was difficult to balance this career (late nights, long days and lots of travelling) with parenting and this is when I applied to work in a local school in the library. I will admit like many who are attracted to working in schools, the hours and holiday times were well-suited to family life. But little did I know this would lead me to discover a brand new career and rekindle my passion for books.  Not that I had ever stopped reading; I hadn’t, but I had never thought about sharing and encouraging others to discover a love for reading, beyond my book group.

It was a huge culture shock going from industry to working in a school. After six weeks I had a complete panic and went to see the Personnel Manager to discuss handing my notice in.  She was brilliant – kind and reassuring and encouraged me to stick with it till the end of that term, saying that many people who come from industry find it a big adjustment.  She also sent me on a training course  all about how to run a school library.  This was a huge turning point for me.  I suddenly realised the value of the job I was doing and will never forget what the man running the course said:

“You can either be the person who sits behind the desk stamping books or you can effect real and positive change in the lives of the children who walk through the school library door.”

It was definitely a light bulb moment for me. Up until that point, I had felt that I had no real purpose other than to look after the very dusty and underused library space, stop students from misbehaving when they came in for the odd lesson and issue the occasional book. I went back to school with a new focus: I was going to revamp the library and make it a hub of activity! A place where students couldn’t wait to be; where they felt supported; where they were inspired and most importantly, a space that celebrated and enabled the discovery of the joy of reading.

Quite a challenge in a library that had had little love or attention for many years!  But despite this, I did achieve a huge amount, working with some great people, of which to this day I feel very proud.  I was able to make good use of the skills I had learnt in running events, marketing and PR. At its simplest level, I saw the library and books as the ‘product’ and the students and staff as my target audience.  It was just a case of working out the right sales pitch amongst other things!

This first experience stood me in good stead throughout my career and I’ve had the rewarding task of revamping nearly all the libraries I’ve worked in.  I’ve learnt a huge amount over the last decade. Not just in terms of running a library; but also working with children, school staff and parents; in teaching and learning; understanding special needs; general education issues; managing a team and a myriad of other things I’d never even thought about.

Without the wider support of those working alongside you, a school library (and the librarian) can quickly become obsolete.  I’ve collaborated with some amazing teachers, teaching assistants and fellow librarians, who have been fundamental to ensuring the success of the libraries I have worked in. I’ve also continually developed my understanding of the importance of reading to a child’s development across all areas of their lives.  I realise how incredibly blessed I was to discover a love for reading at a young age (thank you Dad) and have it come completely naturally to me.  And now even more, I realise that it was a lot easier to grow-up when I was young; these days children have so much to deal with and as school librarian I feel a huge sense of responsibility in supporting young people in school. It’s this that keeps you going when you’re having one of ‘those’ days.

Since that first day, I have worked with nearly 7,500 children ranging from two to eighteen years.  It is a unique position to be in, interacting with the entire school community. In a single day, librarians can be teaching and supporting upwards of five different curriculum subjects for a range of ages, taking book groups, running reading campaigns, recommending books to individuals, writing school policy, as well as the general administration of the library. Add to that the role of tutor in my current position to a group of Year 8 boys and it’s busy!  Perseverance is key as are good working relationships. It is absolutely a full time job and should never be underestimated; but it’s also totally rewarding.

This career has led me to some wonderful things, not least founding The Book Activist. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of sharing my love for reading and been able to read hundreds of wonderful books ‘for work’! I’ve faced challenges in ways I couldn’t have imagined and I’ve had moments of fulfilment that I will never forget. I’ve been fortunate to work with some lovely people and made some friends for life. So on my library-versary, it’s a good time to thank all of those who have supported, inspired and encouraged me. And to thank all the many children who have made my job so rewarding.  And of course, all those amazing authors, illustrators, publishers, editors and brilliant book-ish people who create the stories we love.  I don’t know where the next ten years will take me, but I expect if books and reading are involved, it’s going to be brilliant!

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Chiddingstone Castle Literary Festival 2017: coming soon!

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Chiddingstone Castle in Kent hosted it’s inaugural Literary Festival in 2016 and was a huge success. A celebration of books and reading for both adults and children, the 2017 festival sponsored by Brooks MacDonald starts on Sunday 30th April.  This year, I’ll be at the festival working alongside Beanstalk for Kent in the Reading Zone, a special area for children and parents to give them lots of reading ideas. I’m also one of the judges for the fantastic Short Story competition for children aged 7-13 (entry now closed) and have had a wonderful time reading the brilliant entries! I’m delighted to welcome Victoria Henderson, Festival Director to the blog today to talk to us about this year’s event which is just under two weeks away. Thanks for joining us Victoria!

The Festival is now in its second year; how did the idea for the festival come about? I was working for the book review website Lovereading as their Literary Festivals Coordinator arranging marketing and sponsorship of festivals all over the country and it suddenly occurred to me that there wasn’t a literary festival where I lived in West Kent. Given we live between Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and East Grinstead it struck me that Chiddingstone Castle would be the perfect place to hold such an event. I approached the Castle’s Director and Chairman of the Trustees with the idea, and as they say ‘the rest is history’!

Tell us a bit about what visitors can expect this year. This year’s line-up is a wonderful mix of events for adults and children. We’ve tried to find something for everyone, so story-lovers of all ages will be able to enjoy a choice of historical fiction, biography and memoirs, good mood food, education and the Great War, coping with bereavement, the latest on Brexit and Trump and stories of great lives well lived. For children we have a number of theatre performances and storytelling shows including a musical version of The Ugly Duckling, Sock Puppet Theatre performing Shakespeare and a Comic Strip Masterclass. There’s a guided tour of Chiddingstone, delicious food from our tearooms and vintage food vans, reading advice from your good self and Beanstalk for Kent and some surprises too. Our highlights include appearances from Terry Waite, Rev. Richard Coles, Artemis Cooper, Nicholas Crane, Anthony Seldon, Conn Iggulden, Alison Weir and children’s authors Piers Torday, Lauren St John and A F Harrold.

It’s a big operation coordinating an event on this scale. Do you have help?! We are a small team of 4 (myself – former Publicity Manager at various publishing companies, Mark Streatfeild – retired International Sales Director at Orion, Ali Ditzel – Director of the Castle, and Lisa Prifti – Sponsorship) but we have a wonderful number of smiley volunteers who help out over the 3 days of the festival – manning the box office, checking tickets, parking cars, meeting and greeting our authors, performers and members of our lovely audience.

The festival has a fantastic line-up of authors; do you follow a particular theme or idea when putting the programme together? We don’t have a particular theme as we’re keen to give a really good spread of events and interests. Both Mark and I previously worked in publishing so we still have contacts we can call on for advanced information on up-coming books. Some authors are suggested to us, some we have spotted and chased up and some approach us.

The festival includes a day especially for schools; which is brilliant! Why did you decide to have this? I felt it was really important that we provide an opportunity for local schools and pupils to have access to some exciting children’s authors who they may not otherwise have seen or heard. We’ve chosen authors who are great performers and who will enthuse young people with their love of writing and storytelling.

Is there anything you’re particularly excited about for this year? On the adults’ side, I’m particularly thrilled to have grief therapist Julia Samuel in conversation with Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead whose husband tragically drowned saving one of their children. I think their event will be poignant but inspirational, and encourage people to talk about their grief. We are honoured to have two pre-publication exclusives from two bestselling writers of historical fiction; Alison Weir’s new book on Anne Boleyn and Conn Iggulden’s latest novel Dunstan. We are thrilled to have award-winning children’s author Piers Torday talking about his Last Wild trilogy on our Family Day and about his new novel There May Be A Castle on our Schools Day.

Why do you think it’s important to hold literary events such as these? There’s so much to learn from hearing authors speak about their writing, their influences and their experiences. There’s also something very special about bringing the community together, united by a love of books and good writing in a beautiful location in a historic house in the glorious Kent countryside.

And finally, what would your top three tips be for anyone hoping to organise an event like this?

  1. Location, location, location!
  2. Persevere when seeking out your authors, you’ll get turned down and passed over but follow up every lead
  3. Enthusiasm and hard work…and a belief that it’ll be alright on the night (day)!

Thank you so much for talking to us about the festival; it’s going to be brilliant!

Find out more about the festival programme here and book tickets !