Talk with your kids - a book review

Stuck on a lifeboat

You are stuck on a lifeboat with a group of people after the cruise liner you were on sank. You ran out of food two days ago, and people are starting to talk about eating each other to keep at least some of the survivors alive long enough to be rescued. But who should you eat?

"One of the passengers is a serial killer - you should keep him alive so he can kill those ones you're going to eat!"

"Euww, I don't think I could eat anyone."
"What, even if you were starving to death?"

"Eat the annoying people first."

"Maybe the kids would be softer and easier to eat."

This was one of the craziest discussions we had with our kids using the topics from this book.  Some are topics and subjects that really stretch the imagination and some hit a little closer to home; but all manage to get everyone thinking and discussing a lot of differing points of view and suggestions.

Getting kids talking

What parent hasn't been frustrated by kids giving one word answers.

"So what did you do at school today Johnny?


We're always looking for ways to get our kids talking and discussing things, so when I found this book I just had to get it.

It's a brilliant book that we've found is great to use over dinner with our kids and have had some fun and interesting discussions from it.

This book has 109 conversations about Ethics, topics like bullying, fate, moral responsibilities, cheating, friendship ..the list goes on.

Not only does the book provide topics of conversation, but it also sets up situations, questions and suggestions to lead you through the topic in stages, gradually bringing the discussion from the simple to the more in-depth and complex issues. There are plenty of 'what would you do?' situations, and with no right or wrong answers, it's a great way to get conversations going - especially when you have someone willing to play devil's advocate and suggest outrageous and downright bad things to get a reaction from your kids!

The introduction to the book does provide guidelines and help for parents to use the book, how to encourage your kids without putting words into their mouths.
The topics also mean that kids are not only speaking and practising their skills of conversation, debating and arguing points, but they are also learning about ethics, new situations and developing their own moral values.

Even more discussion topics

Michael Parker has also written another book of conversations to have with your kids with over 100 more ideas to use. This second book is called 

 We're looking forward to using that book too when we've finished the first one.

Have you seen or used this book?
What other methods do you use to get your kids talking?

The opinions in this post are entirely my own, However, the links to the books are for the Book Depository where I have an affiliate link and do earn a commission for any sales via this website.

Japan with kids

This year for our family holiday we took our girls to Japan.
Euan and I both lived in Japan while teaching English several years ago. Our girls have been studying the Japanese language at school since they were 5 and have both wanted to visit Japan for some time. We thought it would be good to take them there to show them the country and be able to share our knowledge and experiences of the country with them.

The Language and Trains

Since both girls study Japanese language, the holiday provided a great opportunity for them to try out their skills and continue learning.
The first written script learnt in Japanese is Hiragana. This is a phonetic script, so the letters all have a fixed pronunciation. Both girls know this script and had plenty of practice reading it on signs, in particular at the train stations.
Each station has a sign with the station name in Kanji at the top, then Hiragana underneath and finally under that in Romanji - the English script that we can read.  At each station, the girls would practise reading the Hiragana and checking it against the English written version below.
Reading a different alphabet and getting instant confirmation whether you've got it right is like cracking a code - so satisfying! Gradually they both started to recognise some of the more common Kanji too, through repetition of seeing them so often.

The trains were also a great source of Japanese language listening practise.  There are endless announcements on the trains, telling you what to be careful of, where the trains are heading, what the next station is called and which side the doors will open on.
There's a lot of Japanese speaking going on, so it was a challenge for the girls to pick out the station names and 'migi' and 'hidari' (right and left) from what they were hearing so they could tell us which side of the train the doors were opening on.

As well as being a great source of language practice, we found all the trains and subways in Japan to be very easy to navigate, always ran on time and were totally safe. We would have been happy to let our girls travel the trains and subways even in the heart of Tokyo without us and felt sure they would be safe.  There were always Japanese people willing to help us out buying tickets and finding our platforms and trains.

The Food

Food was an adventure in Japan. It is so different to the food we're used to eating here in Australia and our girls were great - happy to try almost everything.  There was plenty to try - and having lived there for a couple of years, we knew several dishes we wanted to share with the girls.



Shabu Shabu


And Okonomiyaki.

Plenty of different tastes and the spectacle of the meals being cooked before you, right at your table at times and sometimes even by yourself was an amazing experience!


We stayed in a variety of accommodation - some hotels, guesthouses, a beautiful youth hostel where we had a small dorm room to ourselves and an indoor and outdoor onsen to enjoy in the evening;

and a traditional Japanese Ryokan where we slept on Futons on a Tatami Mat floor.

Everywhere we stayed, people were friendly, welcoming and so happy when we all tried speaking Japanese, encouraging and helping us in our endeavours!

Sights and Culture

We were travelling in Japan at peak cherry blossom viewing time (end March / beginning April),  so everywhere we went had a tinge of pink!

The Big Buddah in Kamakura

Japanese people meet friends and eat and drink under the cherry blossom trees. It always seemed to be blue coloured tarps that were spread under the trees to sit on!

 Cherry Blossoms and Temples on Miyajima

The famous, and much photographed Miyajima Tori

We saw endless impressive and beautiful temples,
(Golden Temple, Kyoto)

Some in the most surprising of places!

and just had to visit the money washing temple, as it is said money washed in the shrine's water will be lucky money!

 We hiked up lots of stairs,

Saw beautiful views,

and castles.

We saw a Geisha girl in Kyoto,

And the Peace Dome in Hiroshima, where we also visited the Peace Memorial Museum. A sobering experience and a real eye opener for the girls, in particular the personal stories of school kids during time of the Hiroshima bombing.

Going to Japan was an amazing experience for us as a family. For Euan and I to revisit somewhere we used to live and see things that had and hadn't changed, but mostly to see Japan through our girls' eyes.  Their wonder at all things Japanese, the differences between the Japanese and Australian culture but most of all their easy acceptance of everything.

They learned and experienced so much in our two short weeks in Japan. It has given them a greater understanding of a country and culture whose language they will continue to study in the coming years.

Have you ever visited Japan?

Recycling Old Toothbrushes - a challenge


Who would have thought we could recycle something like an old toothbrush? And who would have thought they would be such a waste problem - found in the ocean and washed up on beaches worldwide? It's crazy that things like this can end up in the sea and on tropical beaches!

Toothbrushes may be a tiny part of the waste problem facing the world - but every small step helps and this is one step our younger daughter has decided to take through her school.

Recycling the Unrecyclable

A couple of years ago I found a company called Terracycle that recycles things that are normally considered 'unrecyclable' - They started out in the US, but are now also in many other countries worldwide, including Australia.

One of the recycling programmes they have is for recycling used oral care products - such as old toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes.  You can sign up to collect, and they provide free shipping for you to send them the waste for which you are then rewarded with points and ultimately money and prizes for schools and charities.

2016 Oral Care Recycling Challenge

So this year, our younger daughter has set up a challenge at her school to try and collect as much oral care product waste as possible - keep it out of landfill and send it to Terracycle to be recycled into something useful.
To encourage her fellow students to collect this waste and bring it to school she set up a competition between the school 'houses' to see who could collect the most.

She took 4 large cardboard boxes, 
and painted and transformed them into 4 boxes representing large coloured toothpaste tubes - one for each house, with a clear window at the front so you can see the collection progress.

These boxes have now been sitting in the school office for one school term. She has promoted this competition in assembly, to both students and parents, has created a poster and taken the request up to the high school to ask them to collect too, and also sent a collection box to her school's second campus so they can also start collecting.

Today I went in with my daughter to help her weigh each house's collection and prepare the first shipment to be sent to Terracycle.

Overall the total collection was almost 2.5 kg which is pretty good I think, That's 2.5 kg of oral care waste kept out of landfill and that will now be recycled to create something new and useful.

The results have been posted above the boxes and will hopefully spur everyone on to collect more over the holidays and next term to bring their house tally up!

So here's the first shipment all packaged up and ready to send off.

Oh No!

It was frustrating to see that even in a small collection like this -  with clear posters and instructions about what was being recycled, that all of this non-oral care product waste was also placed into the boxes.

But I guess the whole point is education so this is just another step in my daughter's challenge to encourage more recycling at her school.  She now has to work on making people more aware and clearer about what this particular recycling programme involves and can accept.

A Great Learning Experience

I'm very proud of our daughter for taking on this project and doing her part to make a difference. She's not just learning about environmental issues, problems and possible solutions, but she's also learning about managing a large project - dealing with various people, advertising, promotion and ongoing project management. Such a great learning opportunity and experience.

She is learning that you can have a great idea but to put that idea into practice takes a lot of hard work, persistence, and constant learning. She is also learning how a large project needs help from other people - you can't do everything yourself.

It will be interesting to watch the progress and development of this challenge throughout the year.

How about you? 

Have your kids ever taken on a large project like this either at school or somewhere else?  Do you have any experiences or advice to share?

Please leave a comment below - or on our Facebook page

And do keep coming back for more updates on this recycling challenge - and plenty of other things we're doing to try and 
Be Our Best!

That Sugar Film review

Yesterday I watched this movie and just loved it! I've been wanting to see it for a while and just discovered it was on Beamafilm - an Australian independent movie streaming site for documentaries and real story movies. It has some great films to watch and best of all, we get free access with our library membership!

I've watched a couple of other sugar documentaries before, and this one has basically the same message and information as those, but I felt this one was told in a fun and interesting manner - capturing attention with some great effects, cameo appearances by famous actors and a personal story.

Damon, the star of the film, cut sugar from his diet several years ago, but embarks on a journey to see the effects on his body of eating 40 teaspoons of sugar (160 g) of sugar daily for 60 days.  160 g sounds like a lot - but he ate this daily without having cakes, biscuits, chocolates or fizzy drinks. This was just from added sugars in cereals, bars, yoghurts and basically processed foods!

160 g may sound like a lot in a day, but it really isn't.  After the first sugar documentary I watched, I kept a record for just one day for our family to see how much sugar we ate. We each had an average of about 75 g per day, and I think we eat pretty healthily - although we do have cakes and biscuits every day! Just being aware of how much sugar was in our diet has made us think more about the choices we are making when it comes to what to eat!

But back to the film. Over the space of 60 days, Damon did not really change the amount of calories he ate compared to his normal diet, but he put on several kilos in weight, simply by changing the source of a lot of those calories to sugar.  But the sugar didn't just have an affect on his weight, it also affected his health; both physical and mental.

It was shocking to see him demonstrate the amount of sugar in some things, by representing it with plain teaspoons of sugar. For example he compared a bowl of packaged cereal to a bowl of a couple of Vita Brits (which have no added sugar) with the equivalent amount of sugar on top - a seemingly huge amount when represented in this way.

Seeing the story of an 18 year old American guy who was about to have all his teeth removed because they were so decayed and dentures put in after years of fizzy drinks, was shocking. Particularly since he said he will continue to drink fizzy drinks!

I believe the movie managed to convey a strong message about the damage that sugar is doing to not just our bodies, but our minds too and our society. 
It also touched on the fact that the sugar industry is encouraging the consumerism and instant gratification mindset that society has developed over the past few decades which is potentially damaging financially, socially and in terms of health.

I personally really enjoy chocolate, cakes and sweet treats but try to eat them in moderation.  Watching these sugar documentaries has made me want to try going sugar free, even just for a short time - perhaps a month.  I'm not yet convinced to go sugar free completely, but you never know how I might feel after a short term trial!

Do you eat much sugar?  Do your kids?

I would definitely recommend this movie to watch, and I will watch it again with our girls. It is so important to understand what we're eating and putting into our bodies, so we can make our own informed choices for a healthy diet.

How Origami can benefit your body and mind!

Paper + Imagination = Origami

Many people will have done Origami in some form at school - whether it was just simply making paper planes, or perhaps making a chatterbox like this.

But if you think Origami is simply folding paper, then think again!

Origami can benefit your body and mind in so many ways. It is used in areas as broad as education, science, space technology and therapy. Even in your car - think of your car's safety airbag, all folded up neatly, using the principles of origami to keep it safe and ready to spring into action and unfold when needed!

Origami is a an art form, a creative outlet and a tool for learning that needs minimal supplies. But why is it so good for you?

Do the Maths
Origami can give kids a great introduction to many mathematical concepts. Transforming a flat piece of paper into a three dimensional object helps build spatial awareness and learn about geometry. When the paper is folded, shapes are seen - squares, triangles, rectangles and rhombuses. Fractions and symmetry are also experienced when the paper is folded in half and folds made on one side are repeated on another. Following the instructions to create something teaches sequencing skills.  Patterning can also be discovered and learned.
Children learn a lot through play, and playing with origami can let them discover all these mathematical concepts in a fun way, making them prepared for more formal maths lessons as they get older.

Body and mind working together

Origami uses both hands and both sides of your brain. Physically, the left side of  your brain controls the right side of your body and vice versa. The left side of your brain is the part used for logical, analytical and rational skills, whereas the right side of your brain is used for creativity and imagination. When practising Origami, we use elements from both sides of our brain and since brain is like a muscle, the more we use it the stronger it gets. In doing Origami, we are strengthening our whole brain.

 The manipulation of the paper also helps develop fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination. This is one reason that origami is often used in therapy and rehabilitation of people with hand injuries and also people who have suffered strokes.

Creativity unleashed
You have to get creative to turn a flat piece of paper into a three dimensional structure that resembles a real life object. To be able to imagine the resulting animal or whatever you are creating and to see its growth as you fold the paper stretches imagination and builds creativity. The more you fold, the more patterns you will begin to see and your creativity can take hold as you explore the endless possibilities.

Focus, Resilience and Problem Solving
Through origami, skills of concentration, attention, persistence and self evaluation can be developed. Origami gives you the opportunity to work through a problem, evaluate when things go wrong (this can be easily seen when mistakes are made in folding!) and have the persistence to keep going and work through the frustration of mistakes. 
These are more reasons that origami is used in therapy - particularly with things like ADD in kids and also depression and mental illnesses. There are many stories that can be found of people who have found help through Origami for their mental issues.

Try it for yourself

As you can see, the benefits of doing Origami are plentiful, and for kids it is a great opportunity to learn and develop a variety of skills in a fun way.

Origami can be practised alone or with others meaning it can be both a social activity or a solitary one, encouraging interaction with others, or self reflection and calming time.

So are you convinced that Origami is good for you?

Why not try it for yourself and encourage your kids to try.
There are plenty of websites with instructions for making all kinds of things. Here's one to get you started. Or scroll back up to the video at the top and try making a chatterbox.

A different kind of maths learning - Maths Olympiads

How many people think maths is fun?  My guess would be not many;  but I believe as with anything, it can be made fun. Maths is all about solving problems right from the basic up to the very complicated. If maths could seen more as doing puzzles and challenges, then perhaps it would have more appeal.

Puzzles and Challenges make Maths fun

I have already written about the Japanese KenKen puzzles which work on that theory that puzzles are fun, and help kids to develop their mathematical skills that way.

Maths can be made fun through games like Yahtzee, Monopoly and Top Trumps, use of numbers in cooking, and fun challenges. I was once looking after a friend's kids and had to take them grocery shopping with us. I set the kids a challenge to keep them occupied while I concentrated on my shopping list! In pairs they had to add up how much the shopping cost in total as we went around. Whichever team was closest to the correct answer at the end won.  They loved this challenge and when their mum came to collect them they told her how much fun they'd had food shopping! Who would have thought?

The key to getting kids to like maths, is the same as anything - make it fun, make it different, make it a challenge. Learning maths methodology then doing lots of example problems to practice and drill the method is one way to learn - and I do agree it has its place. Repetition is important in maths to gain skill and to be able to do things more easily, which will in itself make maths more enjoyable  (the easier something is, the more likely you are to enjoy it). But there has to be more to maths than endless repetitive sums!

What we are doing

I started out a few months ago, setting maths problems for our daughters, with a reward in a locked box that could only be opened by the combination number of the solution to the maths problem. 

You can read about that here.
The girls enjoyed this, so it grew into a maths advent calendar for Christmas, and now I've had to add an extra box so that they have one each and it's become part of their morning routine to solve a problem and unlock their boxes.

Many of the problems I use for these boxes are from the Maths Olympiad challenge that both girls have participated in at school.

Maths Olympiads

Both our daughters have participated in Maths Olympiads over the past few years at school. It's a 'competition' designed to teach major problem solving strategies and build mathematical intuition in  school kids.

The kids get practice at school in lunch times, and then over the year there are 5 Olympiad tests, each of which consists of 5 questions with around half an hour to solve them in.

The best part of this Maths Olympiads for me is the problem solving practice it gives the students. They learn to use trial and error, estimation and logic to find the answers. The questions are more than just maths problems, they are challenges and puzzles.

 Yes, they do use their mathematical skills to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and make various calculations; but they also learn some nifty mathematical 'tricks' and shortcuts.

For example..

To add consecutive numbers from 1 upwards, take the final number, multiply it by the next consecutive number and divide your answer by 2.

eg:  1+2+3+4+5=    (5 x 6) divided by 2 = 15

Or here's another one my younger daughter taught me:

How to know if any number is divisible by 3:
Add the individual digits and if their sum can be divided by 3, then the original number can be too.

eg  462   4 + 6 + 2 = 12 , which can be divided by 3, so 462 can be too!

There are other divisibility rules which can be found here.

By setting these problems each night I'm learning more myself and also enjoying the challenge of solving the puzzles!

A very tricky problem

When I found this 'viral maths problem' on the internet from last year's Singapore Maths Olympiad, I had to give it a try! It is aimed at Singaporean High School students, and is meant to be a difficult one.

Here is the problem:

Albert and Bernard just became friends with Cheryl, and they want to know when her birthday is. Cheryl marks 10 possible dates: May 15, May 16, May 19, June 17, June 18, July 14, July 16, August 14, August 15, or August 17.
Then Cheryl tells Albert the month of her birthday, but not the day. She tells Bernard the day of her birthday, but not the month. Then she asked if they can figure it out.
Albert: I don't know when Cheryl's birthday is, but I know Bernard doesn't know either.
Bernard: At first I didn't know when Cheryl's birthday is, but now I know.
Albert: If you know, then I know too!
When is Cheryl's birthday?

Tricky isn't it?

Well if you can't figure it out - here's a video to explain how you get the answer:

I had to listen to this and read other explanations a few times before I really understood how to work out the answer!

Make Maths Different and Fun!

Maths as we think of it traditionally - that is 'numbers' can be found in so many aspects of our daily life from shopping and cooking, to bills and banking.  But problem solving is so much more than a maths skill. It's a life skill that will prove a valuable asset to our kids if we get them to practice and enjoy puzzles and problem solving from a young age.

We will continue to look for and take advantage of opportunities to help our kids to develop these skills - whether that be Maths Olympiads or games and puzzles.

Do you know any other ways to make learning maths fun?