This one is for the mums...
Mums, not only is it nearly Christmas, then New Year but you also have the children at home until January, maybe some have not gone to school yet. Do you ever wonder if you will find five minutes for yourself? Daisy Upton did when she became a mum and so the Five MInute Mum was created! It is all about easy games and activities for your children that take 5 minutes to set up (and hopefully pack away too!) From games came a book series and you can now get your hands on Five MInute Mum: Starting School (the one we focus on here); Five Minute Mum; Five Minute Mum: Time for School and Five Minute Mum: On the Go
Daisy very kindly took the time to answer our questions about her Starting School title and the Five Minute Mum concept - I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. My thanks to Penguin Random House Ladybird Books publicity team for helping to make this all happen!
When did the concept of the five-minute mum first come to you, and the five-minute games too? Did this go through various iterations or were you happy with the ideas from the outset?
When my eldest child was three, I began playing little games with him to help prepare him for school. Because I had previously been a teaching assistant working with pre-school and reception age children (early years) I understood the kind of thing I wanted to support him with, but I knew he wouldn’t want to ‘learn’ if I made it seem that way. So, I started playing fun little games with him using whatever I had around the house already. I didn't have any income or time to myself, so it had to be super-fast and easy and using items we already owned. After I did this for a few months my friends asked me about the games, so I decided to start a blog. My husband came up with the name after I explained what I wanted it to be (quick and easy) so I set up a free blogging website called Five Minute Mum and some social media pages and went from there, just sharing whatever we were playing at home!
There are many questions children may have about starting school. How did you decide which ones to use in the book and the order in which to include them? Did you do a walk-through of a school day as part of the planning?
As someone who has been on both sides of a starting school day, as both a teaching assistant and a parent myself I already knew lots of the questions that typically come up. To start with I sat in the Penguin Random House offices with the Ladybird team, and we wrote them all down on post it notes. They also had a few to add as some of them had also worked in education. Once we had the questions, we started ordering them on the window of the office, moving hem about and shifting the order. We deleted some and added others and combined a few of a couple of hours. Eventually we had the bare bones of the book, and I went off to write it. Once written I send it to the brilliant editors and then we got Mackinzie involved to start the incredible illustrations which really bring it to life.
Do you think, hope, that the book will be used beyond the days that lead up to a child’s first day at school? For example, if a child came home and had experienced a challenging playtime, can you imagine the book being useful and continuing to be so through the whole of the first school year?
Yes, absolutely and in fact, my youngest who was 6 and in year 2 when I was writing it, read through one of the edited versions with me and it sparked so much conversation about her day. She told me things that happen in school that she had never mentioned before. So, I believe and hope it will be useful for the first year and beyond, as well as of course those months before to help prepare the little ones for what is to come.
I enjoy the way that you creatively introduce readers to new words and their pronunciation, for example, assembly as ‘ass belly.’ This is great fun and produces lots of giggles. Where do the ideas for these words and sounds comes from and how do you think they help young children?
I like to put myself into a child’s mindset. Children around the age of 4 or 5 find things like bums and poo absolutely hilarious. If you can be silly with them and bring yourself to their level first, they tend to pay much closer attention to you later when you want to explain something important to them. I used this technique a lot when teaching. I would play silly games with a group of children before we then incorporated any learning elements. It always seemed to stick in their memories better if you could make it funny - so that is exactly what I hoped to achieve when writing this book. I also was really keen to try to cover as many of the new strange words children would be hearing at school. When we think about it, words like ’assembly’ are so seldom said, and yet we expect children to just walk into school on day one and be OK with someone saying ‘OK we are off to assembly now’ - I wanted to cover as much as possible so it didn’t all seem so mysterious.
It is not just new school experiences you include, and the book could be used in advance of the first day with the alphabet and numbers learning. Did you feel this was enough additional material for this book and why?
Yes, children don’t need to walk into school on day one knowing the full alphabet and counting to 100. The teachers will start from the beginning with them all. Being familiar with letters and numbers is obviously very helpful for little ones as they begin their education but it’s much better to make it fun and simple in the beginning to just gently introduce them and I wanted to reflect that approach in this book. I include five-minute activities too which cover off other concepts like shape and colour and the senses. All of these things are ideal to support your little one during that pre-school year as they work towards starting school.
Do you remember your own first days at school? Where they similar to, or different from, those in the book. Can you share any great memories with us?
I remember standing in the playground lining up. I saw this little girl with cheeks like a hamster. I told her so (because kids have no filter, do they?!) And after a few seconds of looking back at me, she laughed and then so did I. After that we became best friends. I have named one of the teachers in the book after her, in her honour.
As a teaching assistant what did you find that children needed the most when they were starting school and is this reflected in the book?
I think what children need most when starting school is just love and support from home. If you sit with your child and read my book with them, then that is enough! It’s written so that it is all covered for you. Just cuddling up together chatting about any worries, thoughts, feelings or questions they have is plenty. Five minutes a day chatting or playing together, face to face with no distractions, can really make a huge difference to not only their well-being but your own as a parent too.
You’ve included breakdowns of school days, weeks, the school year. Did you think it could be overwhelming for small children or is this part intended for adult readers?
One of the questions children ask most is about how and when things will happen. They often think after a week they have ‘completed’ school and done it. They also find the half terms a bit confusing at first. Why do we suddenly have a week off? When it comes to representing something as complex as time to a child we often do it visually to support them in the classrooms with visual timetables. I wanted to do something similar in the book which would lay it all out clearly so a child with any questions could track it themselves. I hope it helps parents to explain it as well!
I love your Maurice Mole character. I wonder where he came from, it is fun spotting him but what was the inspiration, and did you have a choice of animals and names?
When I was a little girl my grandmother, known affectionately as Crazy Nanny, would tell us stories about the fairies and moles and pixies of the woodland nearby. She made up all the stories in her head and we were always riveted. So when it came to choosing a little assistant I knew a five minute mole would be just perfect. He is named after my friend Alice’s childhood toy. We all had these little fluffy hedgehogs who we made interact, and hers was called Maurice so when I needed an M name that seemed the perfect fit!
You have written some other ‘Five Minute’ books. Do you plan to expand on these as your own children get older or do you have ideas for some other material/books?
I always have lots of ideas! Too many ideas and not enough time. Ha! I would love to write some more children’s books as I have really enjoyed writing this one. I loved teaching children between the ages of 3 and 5 because it suits my training and skill set. My own kids are now 9 and 7 and they don’t need me to entertain them anymore. They are happy playing cards or board games, or we challenge each other on computer games or on bike rides. I play all my new games with my nieces who are 3 and nearly 1.
What is your number one piece of advice for both child and parent as they look forward to the first day of big school?
My number one piece of advice for parents is to speak to the teachers. They are people too and you are on the same team, you BOTH want your child to flourish and thrive and succeed. Communicate with them whenever you need to, remember they might make mistakes and that feedback is always welcome - both constructive and positive. I don't think teachers can ever hear thank you enough.
My advice to the kids? Go get ‘em! Go and show everyone what you can do - whatever that might be. This is your chance to try lots of new things and see which ones you love most. GOOD LUCK!
Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five