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A great way to get your children excited about reading is to make them the star of their own story. It’s also a great way to record all the many adventures you have together!  These days anyone who has access to a digital camera can make a book; either online or at your local photo shop or chemist that has one of those photo printing booths.  You can either rewrite the familiar classics with your own unique twist as I have done here , or choose to tell your own unique story.

We’re going on a tramping trip
(with William and Josie)
Concept stolen from ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ by Michael Rosen


Josie and the red door.

Josie and the red door (2010)

We’re going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

William @ Craigieburn Forest Park.

William @ Craigieburn Forest Park (2008)

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.

William @ Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve (2011)

Oh no!

We’ve reached the green and shady forest
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it,
we’ll have walk through it

Trip trot trip trot trip trot hop

Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.

Josie @ Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve 2011.

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Ngatuhoa Stream.

William and Dad crossing Ngatuhoa Stream (2007)

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Temple valley.

William and Mum @ Temple valley (2007).

Oh no!

Here’s a rushing braided river
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it, we’ll have wade through it

Link arms and wade wade wade wade

St James CA.

William and Josie St James CA (2011)

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Hanmer Forest Park.

Hanmer Forest Park (2011).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

St James.

St James CA 2011).

Oh no!

We have reached the wavy tussock grasslands
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it

Swish, swish, swish, swish

Ben Ohau.

Ben Ohau (2007).

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Ben Ohau (2007).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Otukaikino.

William @ Otukaikino with friends (2012).

Oh no!

Here’s an oozy, peaty wetland
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go through it, we’ll have to go around it

Squelch squelch squelch squelch

Swing bridge

Swing bridge Aoraki/MT Cook (2009)

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Family at Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Family at Aoraki/Mt Cook (2009).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (2009)

Oh no!

Here’s a big snowy mountain
We can’t go under it, we can’t go around it,
we can’t go through it, we’ll have to climb over it

Climb climb climb climb

Arthur's Pass (2011).

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Kura Tawhiti.

Josie & Ben Kura Tawhiti (2012).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Kura Tawhiti.

William @ Kura Tawhiti 2012

Oh oh

We’ve found a scary limestone cave
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it

Tip toe tip toe tip toe

Cave Stream.

William and Dad @ Cave Stream (2008).

What’s that sound?

Roar!

It’s the taniwha!

Taniwha at Te Puna Quarry.

William, Josie and cousin Taylor on the Taniwha at Te Puna Quarry (2010).

Quick, run home

Over the big snowy mountain—climb climb climb
Around the oozy peaty wetland—squelch squelch squelch
Through the wavy tussock grasslands—swish swish swish
Through the rushing river—wade wade wade
Through the drippy rainforest—trip trot trip trot hop
Back home, in our front door, up the stairs and into bed.

Phew.

Josie reading her book.

Josie reading "going on a tramping trip" (2012)

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Forever trees

Josie and I were in the garden and she turns to me, touching a tree and says “this is a forever tree mum; its leaves stay green forever”. I was immediately charmed with the phrase and my clever daughter. And even more so a few nights later when giving her a goodnight cuddle she started practicing saying a very difficult word – jew sid jewus. Jewsidjewus. “Did you learn that word at preschool?” I asked. “Yes” she said, “Rebecca told it to us. It means trees that lose their leaves”.

Well she couldn’t say the word but she knew what it meant. And at three that’s something. Talking to her teacher Rebecca I passed on that Josie was sharing her knowledge at home.  Rebecca informed me that the children were asking why some leaves were changing colour and some weren’t and that triggered the subject. I was even more impressed now – child-centred inquiry-based learning. Letting the children ask a question, and then help them find the answer.  I am so grateful for the quality care that Josie is receiving while I am working!

But learning doesn’t have to stay at preschool, as Josie was also gently reminding me. So we took a trip into the botanical gardens. It was a gorgeous day, just perfect for wandering amongst the many different trees.

William and Josie in Christchurch Botanic gardens

William and Josie in Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Josie was very quick to point out all the leaves that were changing colour, oranges and browns, yellows even.  She found a marvellous leaf – large enough for peek-a-boo. It was learning by osmosis – by exploring the world around us and taking it all in.

Josie

Josie plays peek-a-boo

And back at home, we decided to make our own “forever trees”. There are so many wonderful art projects you can do with autumn leaves.

There’s leaf rubbing – put a leaf under paper and rub over the top with wax crayon until the shape appears.

William doing leaf rubbings.

William doing leaf rubbings using autumnal colours

Spatter-prints are effective – arrange leaves on the paper, dip an old toothbrush into paint. Use a stick to rub the bristles so fine spatters of paint go onto the paper around the leaves. Lift the leaves to reveal their shadows.

Or even more achievable for pre-schoolers, focus on the colours. Collect papers of different kinds of greens, browns, yellows, oranges – old magazines or wrapping papers can be recycled for this!

Josie creates her evergreen forever tree.

Josie creates her evergreen forever tree

Cut them into leaf shapes (we used zig-zag scissors) and glue them onto your wonderful forever tree.

Forever trees.

Josie's forever trees, evergreen on left, deciduous on right

For a wonderful book about New Zealand’s native trees – most of which are forever green as Josie says – Andrew Crowe’s Life-size guide to native trees is the best.

Our lives are so busy these days. As working parents in a commercially-driven world where success is the measure of worth, we are constantly rushing from one appointment to the next. Get up, go the gym, take the kids to school, go to work, pick up the kids from school, go to swimming lessons, violin lessons, ballet lessons, art, karate, play dates, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, go to the gym, night classes, choir, committee meetings, PTA…

Sometimes we just need to stop, listen, be still and take time to be in the moment.

Daisy's Flat.

Quiet times at Daisy Flat.

Sunday 4 March 2012 was Children’s Day. And I was too busy to publishing this blog on the day! (shame) The theme of children’s day for 2012  was ‘treasure our children’. We shouldn’t need a day to tell us that our children are a gift and that we should spend time with them. But with all this constant drive to improve ourselves and be successful, we sometimes forget to just be together. As a family. All of us. Not Mum and Josie while the boys go to swimming. Not Dad and William while Josie goes to ballet. All of us. Spending some time together marvelling at the world we find ourselves in. It only needs to be ten minutes. Ten minutes of being in the moment.

Here are six simple experiences to just be “in the moment” with your children. These can be done by children of any age, even (especially) infants.

1)     Lie under a tree and look up at the branches together. Watch the leaves blowing in the wind, and the way the sun sparkles as it flicks between the spaces. Close your eyes and listen.

2)     Find a warm rock and lie like lizards. Worship the sun by feeling how it warms the rock – or your driveway if you can’t find a suitable stone. Put your cheek or hands flat against the stone and feel its warmth.

3)     Go for a walk at the quiet end of the beach – no spades, no boogie boards, just you. Take off your shoes and find a spot where the sand is really wet. Scrunch your toes in the sand. Wiggle side to side and watch your feet. Close your eyes and listen to the waves.

Josie aged 9 months.

Josie at nine months explored the sand using multiple senses!

4)     Find a wild space (they are getting rare) where the grass is growing long. Get down low and look through the grass. Play hide and seek, or crawl pretending to be tigers. Look for butterflies and insects flitting from flower to flower. Lie down and close your eyes.

5)     When it rains sit in the window and watch the raindrops travel down the glass. Follow them with your finger. Pick on each and have a race. When it stops – or even if it doesn’t put on your coats and boots and go stomp in some puddles. Raise your face up towards the rain and you guessed it – close your eyes. Take a deep breath and smell the rain.

Down in the forest. Down in the forest

6)     Read a book together. Snuggle into a beanbag and cuddle. Down in the Forest, retold by Yvonne Morrison and illustrated by Jenny Cooper is great for really small kids as it’s a remake of an old rhyme “Over in the meadow” so it has wonderful rhythm and repetition as well as being familiar. It also features different families with each verse – a kiwi family, weta family, tui family and more, so it’s a wonderful choice to celebrate and read as a family.

in an old kowhai tree
lived a sweet mother tui
and her little tuis three.

“Sing!” said the mother
“We sing!” said the three
so they sang so sweetly
in that old kowhai tree.

P.S. This week is Seaweek, an annual celebration to reconnect with the sea and what it can teach us. It is being officially launched at an event from Auckland Zoo tonight. Stay tuned for sea-themed reads and maybe some other fun stuff to do! The website has lots of competitions and resources too so check it out.

My favourite books.  I love books. I was one of those children that consumed books ferociously. I would read under the cover by torchlight until my mother confiscated the torch, then I would read by the moonlight, my book propped up on the windowsill. Once I started a book, I found it hard to escape from it.

I’m still like that – which is why I hardly ever read anymore or I’d never get anything done! But then I go on holiday and I’m like an addict, trying to cram another chapter into every moment of the day.

Instilling that same love of books into my children is important to me. Even before I had kids I started collecting picture books. I was drawn to those that told wonderful stories with wonderful images, usually with a moral or theme that appealed to the conservationist in me. The Whale’s Song was one of the first in my collection. It was usually the paintings or illustrations that would first draw me in – one wonderful book called Flotsam tells an amazing story entirely with images.

Once the children finally arrived in my life, books that were easy to read out loud became more important, with words that flowed or rhymed well, had great rhythm and beat. Humour and fun came to fore as little people love to laugh and I moved from more serious tomes to ‘Rumble in the Jungle’  or  ‘Monkey Puzzle‘.  My admiration for these authors grew when the children would ask to read the same books over and over, but I would never (well almost never) get bored repeating them.

Good quality children’s books are an important way to install values and ideas in small children. There’s a lot of research that tells us that values and character are fully formed in the first few years of life. Humans are hard wired to narrative apparently. Story-telling features in many cultures as the way knowledge was passed down generation to generation. And there are some amazing books out there. There are also plenty of terrible ones too but we don’t need to talk about those!

March 2012 is NZ Book Month.  New Zealand Book Month is a non-profit initiative promoting books and reading. To start you on your journey as a reader they are giving away $5 book vouchers to go towards your next book purchase from participating bookstores.

To help celebrate, I’m going to introduce you to some of our family’s favourite New Zealand children’s books.  Every blog published this March will also feature one recommended read. Now none of the ones I mention above are kiwi writers. But there’s a wealth of literary treasures out among our home-grown authors. I hope to one day join their ranks but for now, I’ll just share my favourites. Starting tomorrow.

It’s difficult to sum up how life has changed since the earthquakes of 22 February 2011.  Its the little things really. Like having to drive to buy milk as there is no corner dairy-or supermarket-nearby.

It’s driving down the road and missing your turn because the historic old post office that used to stand on the corner had finally completely been demolished. Landmarks are disappearing and all street corners look the same.

It’s in things like taking the children to the movies in the summer holidays.  It was our first time back in a big movie complex and I was a little nervous. So I got the kids to practice their ‘turtles’ on the floor before the movie started.  That’s just the realities of living in Christchurch with constant aftershocks.

Turtles; Sarah mankelow

Josie and William practice their turtles

But it’s also in the solidarity of shared experiences that have turned suburbs into strong communities.  The outpouring of expression and creativity that has been inspired by these events and shared, exhibited and admired. The Butterfly and the Earthquake book is only one example.  The ingenuity and innovation of the people of Christchurch as they adapt to a new city, new ways of working and new ways of living.

Life goes on here. So does the shaking but that’s the new normal.

Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust released 185 butterflies into the wild on 22 February 2012 in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the earthquake a year ago.

In many countries and traditions the butterfly is a symbol of transformation-for obvious reasons.

Josie and caterpillar.

Josie checks on the caterpillar

From egg, to caterpillar, to cocoon and finally emerging with wings unfurled, the butterfly is the master of metamorphosis.

Imagine the whole of your life changing to such extreme ways you are unrecognizable at the end of the transformation.  Here in Christchurch we don’t have to imagine it, it’s happened to us all.

Josie and butterfly.

Josie and butterfly

I have three gifts for you for Valentine’s Day; a poem, a piece of art and a children’s book recommendation.

Papa-tu-a-Nuku (Earth Mother)

By Hone Tuwhare

We are stroking, caressing the spine

of the land.

We are massaging the ricked

back of the land

with our sore but ever-loving feet:

hell, she loves it!

Squirming, the land wiggles

in delight.

We love her.

Hone Tuwhare was New Zealand’s most distinguished Maori poet writing in English. He was born in Kaikohe into the Nga Puhi tribe, and much of his poetry was drawn from this heritage–of waiata tangi (songs) and their strong connections to landscape,seascape and myths.

In 2003 he was named by the Art’s Foundation as one of New Zealand’s ten greatest living artists. Tuwhare passed away in 2008.

Official sources tell me this poem refers to The Awakening – the Maori Land March that began at Te Hapua 14 Sept 1973 and ended at Parliament buildings 17 Oct. But I think many of us would read other meanings in it for ourselves.

Having experienced the earth wriggle many many times over the last year it’s nice to think that maybe it’s a delightful response to our presence here, rather than an attempt by the world to shake us off.

Mural; by Amy Sutton.

"The Taniwha" mural by Amy Sutton.

This mural was created by one of the teachers at my daughter’s preschool – Amy Sutton. It illustrates the story of a wonderful children’s book called The Taniwha, written by Robyn Kahukiwa, who is also a wonderful artist.

The Taniwha by Robyn Kahukiwa. Taniwha tells the poetic, touching story of a young boy who meets a taniwha when visiting his nearby river. It’s a poignant tale of friendship and belief,  and a wonderful expression of the gifts the world provides. It’s one of our family’s favourites and I highly recommend it to read to your family.

I feel so blessed that my daughter is going to a school were her learning is supported by creative, talented people like Amy.  Happy Valentines Day.

When I was fourteen I wanted to be like Don Merton. He’d gone to offshore islands and saved a black robin from the brink of extinction. He was my eco-hero and I wanted to grow up just like him.

Well these days I’m more likely to write about eco-heroes than be one, but I can see the same love of nature growing in my son; (most likely because that’s what he’s been exposed to!)

Darwin aged 7; source www.darwinday.org

Charles Darwin

Today is World Darwin Day – a global celebration of science and reason on the birthday of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin was one of the first eco-heroes. He travelled the world documenting life and coming up with all sorts of wonderful ideas like ‘evolution’ and the ‘origin of the species’. He visited New Zealand in December 1835 – apparently he didn’t think much of it!

Both Don Merton and Charles Darwin did great things. But they were also both kids once. Even famous people wanted to grow up to be someone someday. And if your son or daughter would like to grow up to be a famous naturalist, here are my ten top tips on how to help them get there!

1. Go on an adventure travelling on a Beagle. 

Not the dog! Charles Darwin visited New Zealand in 1835 travelling on a ship called “The Beagle”. Your Beagle could be your child’s bike or scooter, or the family car if you are going on a big adventure with the whole family. The point is – go somewhere and see something new!

2. Observe the natural world around you

Go into the bush or the beach with a camera and notebook and record things you see: animal life, plants, stones and dirt, traces left behind by people. If your child is old enough, let them have the camera to record the things that most interest them.

Robin spotting; photo S Mankelow.

Making friends with a South Island robin

3. Teach them to respect the natural world

Encourage them to stop, sit quietly and let birds come to you. Teach them to recognise the things birds and other animals do if they don’t like how close you are getting. It can be dangerous for both of you so make sure your visit doesn’t cause them distress. A good rule of thumb for marine animals is ten metres.

4. Study living things; noticing the little details.

Does this leaf have a jagged edge or a smooth one? Does that bird have a sharp beak? Encourage your children to draw them and name the parts.

5. Start a nature journal

Put all the photos you’ve taken, their drawings, stories and notes all in one book. It becomes a great record of your experiences together and something to refer to later.

William writing in his journal; photo S Mankelow.

William records his experience with the robin in his journal

6. Encourage them to ask lots of questions

Why does that tree grow like that? Why is this leaf furry? Why does that bird’s beak bend? Tell them it’s OK to drive their parents and teachers mad with questions! But then, help them find the answers …

7. Read lots of books about nature

Use what you learn when you go outside to understand what’s around you. Take books with you into the wild so you can identify things you see. Andrew Crowe’s life-size guide books are great for this.

8. Get familiar with some new big words and ideas like ‘evolution’, ‘adaption’, ‘habitat’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. Find out what they mean and then look around you to find examples in the natural world.

9. Discover or invent something new

Why not draw a magical creature that lives in a special place? Think about its habitat (where it lives) – what would it need to survive?

10. Finally, the best way to become famous as a naturalist is to share your knowledge with others!

If you see rare birds like whio/blue duck encourage your child to write to DOC and explain that it helps their research. Maybe encourage them to start up their own research project at school. Join a club or support a trust like Kea Conservation Trust.

Robin; Photo S Mankelow.

South Island Robin