On Saturday we commenced our WINTER FESTIVAL.

I told the kids the old solstice legend of people hanging their wishes from trees for the elves to see and hopefully grant! The kids were keen to do the same so we hung our wishes on our learning tree.

I also told them that elves HATE spelling mistakes and don’t read wishes that are misspelled! What a change- they all checked their spelling carefully, checked in with teachers and used dictionaries. I have a feeling these spelling elves are here to stay at ICE!FullSizeRender (002)

I was fascinated to note their wishes. Many asked for gifts for their families. One child wished for immortality. A few asked for happiness and peace.

I truly believe rituals and celebrations are very important for children. They love the “wheel of the year,” and are fascinated by old traditions. They help children feel grounded, part of the community to understand their connections to the past.

This week and next we are celebrating this MIDWINTER time with a veritable festival of learning activities. We have even obtained a fake log fire to add to the atmosphere!fire

Here are some of our activities- they can easily be adapted for any classroom and are great to use at home!

  • Studying and writing about ice crystals http://encyclopedia.kids.net.au/page/ic/Ice_crystals
  • Mindfulness sessions- staring into a candle or fire and sharing what came into your mind.
  • Cook and eating wintery food such as baked potatoes, apple bread or hot chips.chips
  • Expressing gratitude for all the wonderful blessings we have experienced this year and setting goals for the warmer months ahead. You could light a tiny tea-light for each blessing children tell. (Keep up high!)
  • Reading and writing about the Earth’s orbit around the sun and why we have seasons.
  • You tube cold weather clips of crackling fires and snowy scenes. https://youtu.be/25SV6zqTl1k


So put plenty of layers on, make huge hot chocolates and celebrate this lovely deep, introspective season. It offers opportunities to go deep, get introspective, re-adjust the sails and just take a much needed deep breath!


Your child is only at level 23!

A view of a sad prisoner in jail
A view of a sad prisoner in jail

I have had to sit on this subject for 2 days as as it was connected to an incident that left me white hot with rage! All I could do was rant and rave with my colleagues who all agreed privately but pointed out they are often bound to work within this crazy system!

I worked with a perfectly normal 6 year old this week who is just beginning to sound out and recognise some words. He has a lovely sense of humour and is obviously a very active, creative child who will do well at school.

BUT he comes from a classroom where the levels may as well be inscribed on children’s wrists like those in POW camps! His parents were told the sad news- “Only at level 23!”

Up to level 23 in reading? What does this mean? Of course I know there are various prescribed lists of levels suitable for children with books that fit within these lists. Many of these lists are put together by publishers of particular reading schemes and teachers (searching for a sane, easier way of assessing) are grabbing at these levels and giving out comments such as “Oh dear! Your child is only at level 23- he should be at 30.”
Who said?
What about the fact that he has started his reading journey and now recognises all the single sounds, many digraphs and can sound out simple words?

What about the fact that he loves picture books, comprehends well and has great ideas for writing narratives?

Aren’t they things to celebrate for a 6 year old? But NO!

Because some children can master all their phonics at 5 years we now judge those who take a little longer.

This is utter madness and teachers know this deep down.
Evaluation is a complex process and cannot be pinned down to numbers like this.

You have to get to KNOW a child to evaluate them. Not only do you apply baseline testing, you have to observe, figure out their thinking patterns and watch them in action.

When we make these fast judgements we are lowering our standards as educators and behaving like teaching machines.

The results are sad kids with low self-esteem who already hate school at 6! At 6? Crazy!

I know some teachers are pushed to place kids against very questionable ranking scores but this causes unbelievable harm for children and parents.

We can do much better than this!

Now when I assess children and ask them how they think they are doing at school, they answer me like this,
“Oh Vicky- I am only at level 15.” When I ask them what that means they haven’t a clue and neither have I.

Let’s get back to solid, on the floor observation, talking to children, identifying learning styles, finding what they can do, running records and closely monitoring phonological awareness, word identification and fluency. I tell kids when they have problems and I make up plans to help them rather than giving out some meaningless score! We are teaching children- not machines!
What is happening is stupidity of the first degree and I cannot stand back and watch what is happening with a closed mouth.

Come on educators- speak your minds and parents- DEMAND to know exactly what these levels mean and why your child should have to be a carbon copy of some “idealised” robot child!


leaky armThe hole in the arm syndrome!

Many parents and teachers come to us with problems associated with reluctant writers. Their children are simply not able to transfer their thoughts to paper even though they have very creative ideas.

Many children are not able to sift through the myriad possibilities when asked to write freely – they often need some guidelines. These children often think on all levels at once and find it extremely difficult to order their thoughts and know where to start.

Some children are perfectionist in nature and know their written efforts will not be as good as they wish.

No matter what the cause- the effect is the same! Ideas and words just drop out of the elbow before they reach the pencil. I call it LEAKY ARM SYNDROME! It works in the same way as a leaking bucket- gradually all the ideas leak out and they are left embarrassed and unable to generate more.

We have been running professional development courses in Perth and Singapore to help parents and teachers stimulate writing and help children to overcome these difficulties and stimulate their “writing starter motors”.

Some of the suggestions we offer are:

• Give sentence starters and story starters – eg. It was a very stormy nights and …
• Use stimulating pictures to initiate writing responses
• Ask all children to keep personal journals
• Use guided visualisations to help children tap into their imagination
• Read a good story and ask children to retell it with a twist or some different characters
• We use paint charts to stimulate poetry and “stream of consciousness” writing.
• Let the child write one page or sentence and teacher/parent write the next one
• Encourage the child to speak their story onto a digital recorder or use voice recognition programs. Children LOVE to see their words magically translated into words!
• Pay more attention to the message rather than the spelling and editing when children are in the initial stages of writing.
• We also use some specific brain stimulation exercises to ensure ideas are travelling smoothly along all neural pathways!

We all have a writer’s voice inside so perhaps if we all write in journals and try our hands at some poetry our children will perceive that writing is a valued activity and try out their creative ideas!

If you would like further ideas or information about our methods, please contact us on 92714200 or 0409911135. You can also email us on victoriacarlton@iinet.net.au and don’t forget we are helping children find their WRITING VOICES during our January programs. The Victoria Carlton programs are held in Bayswater: 92714200 and Cockburn: 9414 7191

She can even teach the dog to read!

dog in glasses with a book

Today I read about how dogs are being used in Lancaster County to encourage kids to read. I was immediately catapulted back down a time tunnel to a previous time!

I was teaching kids from a back room in my house and had about 15 kids reading, writing etc on my enclosed back verandah. My greatly beloved dog of the time (Zach), was outside and constantly barking.

I told the kids I would try to quieten him as it was quite annoying. I grabbed a large piece of paper and wrote in thick marker:

I held it up to the window, thinking he would take no notice at all. 14 kids watched! Imagine my surprise when a rather startled dog stared at the sign and went completely quiet!

One of the boys commented in a reverent tone- “She can even teach the dog to read!”

My greatest moment of fame! Thanks Zach!


Well-today was all about love for me and what a day it was!

The Beatles were not wrong- it IS all you need and if you love a few people and a few people love you, you are truly blessed.

I had my usual long Monday list of THINGS THAT MUST BE DONE and love intervened in many ways- a bit like a hungry, determined cat that will NOT leave you alone until you stop and feed it!

There were family members fed up with me, family members I was fed up with, people who needed my love more than I had realised and the pain and joy of dealing with it all. And, funnily enough, at the end of a day that still has 90% of tasks undone, it feels like the most satisfying, love filled, frustrating and yet worthwhile day ever. Indeed, a day to remind me to keep the main thing the main thing!

I’ve been reviewing our programs lately and reflecting on why kids do so well on only once or twice a week attendance and I am convinced it is also about  love. The small staff at ICE LOVE their kids and I delight in the cheerful giggles, happy noises and smiling faces I see every day. Looks like in education we also need to keep the main thing the main thing. The Beatles were onto something-love transforms, heals and brings us closer. It is just as necessary in education as it is in our personal lives!


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