Wednesday, 28 August 2013

#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Back to School" - Learning books that really don't feel like 'school' books

Marks and Spencer "Bright Sparks" First Writing
Continuing our #ReadItMD13 theme week of "Back to School" we thought we'd revisit an excellent range of early years teaching books that really don't feel like 'learning' to a child - more like a fun set of activities and puzzles that they can enjoy but at the same time support early years foundation stage / key stage school curriculum programmes.

Phew! That's a tall order, and the range comes from somewhere you probably might not expect. Marks and Spencer have several book ranges but we're huge fans of the "Bright Sparks activity books, covering a diverse range of numeracy, literacy and science subjects but in fun and exciting ways.

"First Writing" mixes wipe-clean pages with stickers and activities for children just learning to write and form letters on their own.

The exercises are probably quite familiar to children who may have encountered similar writing exercises in class, but coupled with reward sticker sheets, wipe clean pages so you can use the book again and again, and some brilliant bold colours and clearly laid out spreads, these really are fantastic - and very reasonably priced (the book pictured is £2.80 which is brilliant value).

Moving on to books for slightly older children in the Bright Sparks range...

For children aged 5-7 there's the "Big English and Maths Workbook" which again uses a combination of exciting puzzles, exercises and reward stickers to make learning fun.

We have recently dug out our own copies of the Bright Sparks books we've bought to get Charlotte back into the swing of things before school starts back up. Though we had school work plans and sheets sent home for the holidays, they're quite often bulk printed in black and white whereas the Bright Sparks range are nice and colourful with less of that "school" feel to them.

We often find it quite tough to get Charlotte in the right mood for tackling exercises and class-set stuff but we have the exact opposite experience with the Bright Sparks books, in fact we often have to try and rein her in a bit as she loves them a bit TOO much and would probably happily stay up till midnight completing them.

M & S also do a fantastic range of early reader storybooks.

"First Readers - Let's Start Reading" books again support the national curriculum and present a series of well-loved fairy tales and fables, with brilliant illustrations and key word panels to encourage children to read on their own and gain reading confidence.

Picking familiar stories and characters and giving them an early reading 'tweak' without resorting to dry phonics-style exercises, these books have been a massive help in boosting Charlotte's reading. Again we often struggle with class-set texts (as much as we love the Biff, Chip and Kipper range - they're instantly identified as school books and it can be quite tough to get Charlotte to engage with them and complete them for her homework assignments.

These are great as they're fairly short (so attention spans don't wander), perfect for bedtime reading (subjects and content are familiar and 'comfy' for children) and the word pick panels allow children to easily read, pick out and then recognise key words throughout the stories.

Jack and the Beanstalk is a particular favourite but just about all the classic fairy tales are covered, as well as traditional folk tales and stories from around the world.

They're nicely written and illustrated and the price is very reasonable too (these retail for around £2.40 which is ludicrously good value).

So next time you're popping into M & S for a new pair of undies, check out the children's book section and you'll be pleasantly surprised. We really do recommend the Bright Sparks workbooks as they're great to take away on holiday, or to grandparents so that children can settle down and boost their brain power without feeling pressured.

Check out our previous reviews of the Early Readers range