One of the best things you can do with your kids.

ImageIf you’re looking to spend some quality time with your kids, one of the best things you can do is cuddle up with them and read a book.

In an increasingly digital world, where ebooks are now downloadable instantly, it’s worth noting that one of the few types of printed books that are still selling well are children’s picture books.


I believe it’s because they give children (and the adults too) experiences that are very hard to get from TV, the internet, games consoles and iPads.

This is because print still does things that digital can’t do. Here are just some of the reasons:

1. Picture books are real 3D objects a child can experience with all their senses.

As well as seeing the pictures and hearing the words when you read to them, kids can handle a book, smell the paper and even, in the case of very young kids, bite and taste it!

2. Stories enable a child to experience emotions in a way that is completely safe.

Human beings have always loved stories. They’ve been an essential part of what makes us human for thousands of years.

We use stories for all sorts of reasons.

Think how fables like The Boy Who Cried Wolf or The Hare and the Tortoise are used to teach children valuable life lessons.

But also think of scary stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel (no, not the vampire hunters—the other ones!). Apart from teaching kids not to stray too far from home, they also expose kids to new emotions—ones they can try out for size in complete safety.

If you’ve spent any time with a two- or three-year-old, you’ll appreciate they are still very much learning to control their emotions. We are emotional animals.

Learning how our emotions work, how to control, express or understand them is something that takes a lifetime and it starts very early in childhood.

Books can help. Stories can make kids feel happy, sad, anxious, scared, in measured doses. And when the book is over and everything back where it should be, the memory of that emotion remains.

3. Stories enable kids to take a journey beyond their own work.

This can be a physical journey to another country. This is one passion of mine—many of the books I publish are set in other countries. Waiting for Mummy, a simple but moving tale of a little boy waiting for his mum to come home is set in Korea, for instance, while Lat’s delightful Kampung Boy is set in a Malaysian village. Serge Bloch’s Sam and His Dad is set in France.

Learning that there are other places beyond teaches children valuable lessons. One of the most important is that, while people may live in different places and look different to us, we have a lot in common with them. We all love our families, enjoy playing with friends, or miss Mum or Dad when they’re away.

4. Books can carry real knowledge and help kids discover passions and interests they otherwise wouldn’t be aware of.

While I was writing this, I asked my six year-old what he liked about books. His reply was slightly unexpected:

‘The best thing about books is that in science books you learn things about being a scientist when you grow up. I want to be a scientist. Most factual books have facts about science. Everything in this room is science—even that computer. And you, you’re science, Dad.’

I wasn’t expecting that. Kids are little sponges, absorbing so much. What lifelong interest might be awakened by ten minutes with the right book?

5. Lastly, reading picture books together give us all an excuse to do something few kids get enough of—cuddling up.

Sometimes, that’s all the reason you need.


Guest Literacy blog post by Planning Queen, Nicole Avery

9780980607055It’s well into the first term and, at my son’s school, I’ve noticed lots of parents chatting about their child’s level of spelling and reading.

Being a publisher of children’s books I’m often asked if I know of any literacy resources I could recommend. As well as suggesting our title, Teaching Kids to Read by Fay Tran, which focuses on learning to read with phonics, I’ve also been directing people to blog, Planning with Kids, and their fantastic posts throughout February focusing on Literacy.

In this series of blog posts, topics covered include: What is Phonics?, Early Literacy For Children With Additional Need, Is your child being taught to spell well? and Decodable Books. The last post in the series is a more personal perspective from blog owner Nicole Avery.  With her permission we have included this as a guest post below:

Guest blog by Nicole Avery, originally posted on  Planning with Kids, March 8th, 2013.

Supporting Kid’s Literacy


Supporting kids literacy

This post is the final in my literacy series which has been running over the last few weeks.  The other posts in the series were:

I was pleased to have a number of experts contribute to the series, but for today’s post I wanted to share what I do at home with our kids to support their literacy. This is the stuff beyond reading to them daily, talking to them, pointing out letters, signs etc. I am not writing this to say that this is what everyone should do nor that is even best practice. It is the reality of how I try my best to support five kids at differing levels with their literacy. To make it a little easier for you to follow I have broken it into stages.


My support of literacy for this age, is based upon games and an introduction to phonics. Our eldest child attended a Montessori kindergarten and I was lucky to learn a great deal about early literacy from his teachers. The first thing I learnt was not to teach preschoolers the name of the letters of the alphabet, but the sound.

I spy game
The first game I have played with all our preschoolers has been the “I Spy” game. You can see full details on how we play it here, but in short you choose a small number of objects and once the preschooler can name all the items correctly you can start the game by saying “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with D”. “D” being the sound of the letter not the name.

I also very happily use technology to help support the preschooler. Two of my favourites resources are:

Alphablocks – Online Game

Alphablocks is a fun game which has videos to watch, games to play all of which are phonics based.

It is aimed at three-to six-year-olds and its simple purpose is to entertain and show that wordplay can be a lot of fun. It is based on best-practice phonics teaching, helping young children to develop confidence and encouraging engagement with reading and making words.

I will let the four year old have 10 – 15 minute sessions on this when I can sit with him. While he can easily operate the mouse, there are many options and distractions, which I guide him through.

abc Pocket Phonics

pocket phonics
Possibly one of my favourite all time kids educational apps. This link will take you to the lite version which is free, but only has limited letters. It is great to be able to try it out, but we have the $2.99 full version and I highly recommend it.

Again our preschooler has 10 – 15 minute sessions on the iPad, but the way this app works, it will only let him move up once he has mastered sets of letters first. I will let him play this game when I am working with the older kids on their homework. He will often then have 10 minutes of free play on other apps of his choice.

Primary School

I have two key resources I use to work on literacy with the primary school kids.

Simplex Spelling Phonics 2 Syllables – Spell To Read

simplex spelling 540
The first is an app, Simplex Spelling Phonics, and it is one of the more expensive apps I have bought at $5.49, but I think it is worth every cent. You can have user accounts for each child, so they can work at their own level. It is recommended for kids aged 6+. And we have just purchased the Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms which is also $5.49 and recommended for kids 9+.

Toe by Toe: Highly Structured Multi-Sensory Reading Manual for Teachers and Parents by Keda Cowling

toe by toe
Toe by Toe (aff) is a very specific approach to helping kids learn to read using syllable division and phonics. You can see example pages here.

You don’t need to be an educator to use this book as each page has instructions for you, but it does require commitment and discipline from you, just as much as the child, to be fully effective.

My goal is to work with the primary school kids for about 10 – 20 minutes a day each Mon – Fri, but this doesn’t always happen as extra curricular activities get in the way. The app obviously doesn’t need my input like the book, but I need to be aware of what they are doing on the app and any issues they may be having.

Secondary school

It is a very different ball game at this end. My support is less frequent but still needed. A tip from a friend was to read the set texts he needs to read for school, so I can engage in literary discussions with him about the books. This has been very helpful. The discussions don’t even happen necessarily around homework requirements, but more often just general discussions around the home.

I still make sure he has access to a wide variety of texts and engage in conversations with him about those texts even if I dislike the books. In our conversations I am aiming to increase ability to critically analyse what he is reading. He does love to read and will read widely – sometimes very simple books and other times incredibly complex works. Both can provide excellent opportunities assess his comprehension and understanding.

Educating myself

And I read as much as I can about literacy and kids. I am always on the look out for blog posts on literacy, new research and events I can attend to learn more myself. Highlights I have come across are:

Each child is different though and I tailor what work I do with them based not only on their ability, but also on their personality and temperament.

Would love to hear how you support kids literacy and any tools and resources you use.

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Clunes Booktown Festival Top 10

Why? by Lila Prap

Lila Prap’s hilarious ‘Why?’ suggests why animals look and behave the way they do.

Here are the top selling Wilkins Farago books at last weekend’s Clunes Booktown Festival:

  1. Why? by Lila Prap
  2. Sam and His Dad by Serge Bloch
  3. Waiting for Mummy by Tae-Jun Lee and Dong-Sung Kim
  4. 3 Wishes for Pugman by Sebastian Meschenmoser
  5. Kampung Boy by Lat
  6. Teaching Kids to Read by Fay Tran
  7. I Love Kissing You by Davide Cali and Serge  Bloch
  8. The Bear with the Sword by Davide Cali and Gianluca Foli
  9. What is this thing called love? by Davide Cali and Anna Laura Cantone
  10. The Enemy by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch

Wilkins Farago a Partner of the National Year of Reading 2012

We are very excited to announce that Wilkins Farago is now an official Partner of the National Year of Reading 2012.

The campaign was established by Australian libraries and library associations to turn 2012 into the National Year of Reading. They intend to link together all the great things that are already happening around books, reading and literacy, and give them an extra boost, with inspirational programs and events taking place across the country.

The Campaign Manifesto:

Nearly half the population struggles without the literacy skills to meet the most basic demands of everyday life and work. There are 46% of Australians who can’t read newspapers; follow a recipe; make sense of timetables, or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle.

Libraries will be partnering with government, the media, writers, schools, publishers, booksellers, employers, child care providers, health professionals and a whole host of other organisations that share our passion for reading.

We are proud to support the campaign and strongly feel that literacy is one of the most important gifts we can give our kids.

Wilkins Farago have also published  Fay Tran’s book, Teaching Kids to Read, which focuses on teaching through the simple, effective and proven method of phonics.

National Year of Reading events already taking place include the Inaugural Story Exhibition at Gasworks Arts Park opening on Saturday 19th of November, which we’re sponsoring. There will also be a national touring exhibition of Alison Lester’s delightful illustrations from her book Are We There Yet? as well as arts festivals, national book groups, writing competitions and lots more! Visit the NYR events calendar for more details.

Revisit our blog to learn about Wilkins Farago’s own National Year of Reading projects in the coming months.

Guest post: It’s time to save our children from reading failure

Fay Tran receives the 2011 Bruce Wicking Award for her contribution to the field of children’s learning difficulties

Dr. Louise Mercer presents Fay Tran (right) with the 2011 Bruce Wicking Award for her contribution to the field of children’s learning difficulties

Last month, Fay Tran, author of Teaching Kids to read: basic skills for Australian and NZ parents and teachers, gave a passionate speech outlining the failure of Australian schools to teach basic literacy. Here’s an edited version of that speech, delivered on the occasion of her receiving Learning Difficulties Australia’s 2011 Bruce Wicking Award in recognition of Fay’s contribution to the field of children’s learning difficulties.

BEFORE THE mid-1980s, reading was taught by a balanced combination of phonics and whole word methods … This was before the age of computers and interactive white boards, so teachers used flashcards and the blackboard to teach decoding skills and build fluency and comprehension. For reading lessons the class was usually divided into three groups, so that children were taught at their individual level. The teacher also aimed to hear every child read from their graded reader every day.

And then Whole Language arrived, like a new religion that everyone had to follow … From 1985, all student teachers were taught the Whole Language method exclusively for teaching literacy, and all education lecturers were expected to be committed to the method.

 I simply do not understand why every primary school cannot teach every child to read and spell to a functional level in the seven years of attendance.

Initially called ‘The Psycholinguistic Approach’, Whole Language is based on the belief that children can learn literacy skills the same way that they learn language, through plenty of exposure to, and interaction with text.  Teachers are expected to work as facilitators rather than instructors and direct instruction of phonics and decoding skills is banned, as are controlled vocabulary readers. Children are encouraged to guess words from context, rather than use phonics skills to decode them, correction of errors is minimal and predictive text readers with supportive illustrations are used to make the guessing easier.

Teaching Kids to Read

'Teaching Kids to Read' has made an immediate impact in the nation's classrooms

At the time I was fortunate to be working as a learning support teacher in a school that bucked the trend and continued to teach phonics for both reading and spelling.  Knowing that children really needed direct instruction of phonics to develop reading skills, I thought reason would soon prevail and there would be a general return to the proven method, but here we are, more than 20 years later and the return to sanity has only just begun. For all of that time only half of my work involved the support of children at risk of reading or spelling failure because of learning difficulties.  The other half was rescuing children who came from other schools with already established reading failure.

Only half of my work involved the support of children at risk of reading or spelling failure because of learning difficulties.  The other half was rescuing children who came from other schools with already established reading failure.

Without exception, regardless of underlying learning difficulties, these children responded to direct instruction and practice in phonics skills and spelling rules, starting right from the basic level. Reminding a child to sound out a new word rather than guess from context is a very simple way of making a huge difference to the development of their reading and spelling. While it was very rewarding to put these children back on track and know that their futures would no longer be limited by illiteracy, I became increasingly concerned that what was happening at our school was quite unusual and that thousands of children across the country were being deprived of the opportunity to develop literacy skills.

I know I was not alone in these concerns. I attended almost every SPELD and AREA or LDA conference in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane and every one reinforced my beliefs that the way I was teaching was the most effective and efficient way to ensure every child developed essential literacy skills, but somehow outside these organisations, a few schools and some private tutors, the rest of the world stayed in denial.

Let’s not beat about the bush here. Functional literacy is absolutely essential in today’s society and without it, people are at serious risk of a dismal future. If you don’t believe me, ask a social worker.

The problem is that children who don’t develop efficient literacy skills at school are not just disadvantaged but are seriously traumatized and often damaged for life, and this starts very early on. Let’s not beat about the bush here. Functional literacy is absolutely essential in today’s society and without it, people are at serious risk of a dismal future. If you don’t believe me, ask a social worker. Continue reading

Author Fay Tran wins prestigious literacy award

Fay Tran

Geelong-based author of Teaching Kids to Read, Fay Tran, is to be awarded the prestigious 2011 Bruce Wicking Award in recognition of her contribution to the field of children’s learning difficulties.

The award, which will be presented on 15 October, is made by Learning Difficulties Australia.

In its citation for the award, Learning Difficulties Australia has this to say about Fay and her work:

Fay Tran is an LDA Consultant and was Learning Support Teacher at Geelong Grammar from 1984 to 2010.  She is a qualified primary teacher and teacher librarian, and also has a Bachelor in Special Education from Flinders University. In 2010, she published a book, Teaching Kids to Read, based on her experiences in supporting children with learning difficulties at Geelong Grammar. This was during a period when the whole language approach to the teaching of literacy came to dominate teaching of reading in the primary grades, and Fay was one of the few teachers … who resisted pressures to abandon the phonics approach to the teaching of initial reading, and was successful in ensuring that direct teaching of phonics was maintained …  As noted by Peter Westwood in his Foreword to Fay Tran’s book, her approach to teaching reflects a thorough understanding of how children learn, the particular needs of children with learning difficulties, the importance of explicit instruction, practice and the opportunity to apply new learning in achieving mastery, and the need for ongoing monitoring and assessment.  In documenting these strategies in her book, Fay has provided an important resource for teachers and parents, described by one grateful parent as ‘by far the most inspiring, practical and informative book I found.’

The Bruce Wicking Award will be presented to Fay Tran at the Awards Presentation following the LDA AGM on 15 October, in recognition of her commitment to effective teaching practice based on sound evidence, and her willingness to stand up to opposition in support of her principles.

Published late last year, Tran’s Teaching Kids to Read is the culmination of a lifetime’s work helping children with reading and learning difficulties. The book strongly argues for the use of the phonics, the literacy teaching method now firmly embedded in Australia’s new National Curriculum. The book has been widely praised since publication and has recently reprinted.

Congratulations, Fay! You can read her explanation of why she wrote her book here.

What parents can do to help their kids read

With the school year coming to an end, a lot of parents may well be wondering what their children have learned this year.

For those concerned about their child’s progress in reading and spelling, Wilkins Farago author and literacy specialist Fay Tran has written a short piece for parenting and education website

She lists the things parents can do to help with their child’s literacy. It doesn’t have to be hard work, either, as she reassures us:

Learning phonics skills is not very different from the way children learn football, tennis or piano skills and parents can help their children learn and practice reading skills just as they do with sport or music.

You can read the full article here. There’s also a competition to win a copy of her new book, Teaching Kids to Read. But hurry, the closing date is 26 November.