Tag: learning

The Importance of a Home Playground – Brian Caswell

Turning your home into a playground does not mean letting your children run amok through the house, but the opportunities available in almost every room mean that with a little forethought and planning, you can turn your home into a play-learning environment which will significantly aid the cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of your child.

Children learn through play – it allows them to Experience, Explore, Experiment – what is called the ‘three Essential Es – and that, in turn, helps them build the key, foundational skills and the fund of experiences they’ll use to negotiate a complex and rapidly-changing world, as they grow.

Making your home a playground simply means acknowledging that there are playful-learning opportunities everywhere and working out how to best find these opportunities and utilising them.

The important thing to remember is the concept of ‘playful learning’, which involves a process of exploration and experimentation and ‘trial and error’ – which is the only way that children learn. Avoid micromanaging when children are playfully learning – this will allow them space and time to find learning opportunities.

The key is to create one space (or a couple if you have multiple little people running around) where toys, games and other creative stimuli are readily available and can be shared. Whether it’s a stand-alone space or sits within a child’s bedroom, it should, if possible, contain these key elements:

  • A blackboard and/or whiteboard, complete with coloured chalks, whiteboard markers and magnetic shapes and letters. Butcher’s paper and coloured pencils and crayons are a great addition too.
  • A bookshelf for favourite books and a reading corner complete with cushions or a beanbag. Hint: Regular reading sessions with Mum or Dad or other adults will encourage a child’s reading habits, but a nice place for your child to curl up and read is key to nurturing a love of reading!
  • A quiet corner will be even more special if it offers some privacy – even children like some alone time. This can be achieved easily by hanging a sheet or a curtain from a simple frame – or even a home-made teepee – but even a small table draped with floor-length cloth will work. Low-voltage fairy-lights complete the atmosphere of the special place perfectly.
  • Flat surfaces and beds can be populated by soft toys, dolls, and action figures, creating a group of companions for imaginary play.
  • Remove all devices and screens (TVs, computers, tablets or mobiles) from the bedroom/playroom. These devices are passivity-inducing time-thieves. The playroom should be a place for opening up curiosity, creativity and problem-solving, not for training passive consumption and zoning out. This isn’t to say that they can’t have screen time at all, but the playroom should be for exploration and experimentation.

Whatever your child’s home playground is like, it’s important they learn to put back their toys and games back to where it belongs – this rule should be strictly enforced.

But what about the other rooms?

The thing to remember is that because a child’s learning is ‘hands-on’, the home naturally provides ideal opportunities for practical – and fun – learning. The key, for parents, is to recognise the resources we have at our fingertips.


  • Tupperware, plastic cups, plastic utensils – for:
    • building,
    • obstacle courses,
    • musical instruments,
    • categorisation (concept-formation)
  • Food for:
      • Tactile experiences
      • Other sensory development fun (taste, smell, sound, sight, touch)
      • Process training (recipes to demonstrate importance of reading)
      • Categorisation (eg: pastas; types of food; colours)
  • Fridge:
    • Think magnets for: spelling, numbers or creating art


  • Water fun for motor skills, pouring, grabbing, pushing
  • Experimentation – float / sink
  • Can be done both in the bath, or in the sink or baby bath.

TV Room:

  • Language development – discussion of programs can help them learn and think beyond what is shown on TV.


  • Quiet time – talking about the day; reading special books together; sewing; drawing.


  • Treasure hunt/map creation – development of imagination and narrative intellect.
  • Velcro labelling – reading; categorisation; problem-solving.
  • ‘I spy’ and ‘Guess Who?’ games, using observation and language skills.

So how can parents nurture a child’s creativity in these environments?

Give them plenty of challenges and opportunities to extend themselves. Ask ‘generative questions’ rather than ‘end-stop’ ones’ to encourage further thinking and curiosity. A good way to do this is to start questions with ‘who/what/why/when/where/how’.

Lastly, don’t just read to – but with – a child. Engage them in thinking about the story. For example, you could ask them about the characters in the story, or even, ask them about them about different objects mentioned throughout the story. This will help them to think beyond the words on the page and let their mind wander to other possibilities.

You can find the podcast we did with Brian Caswell on ‘the importance of a home playground’ HERE.  

More About the Author 

Brian Caswell is an internationally – acclaimed author of more than 300 books, an established speaker, researcher and educator. He is also the Dean of Research and Programme Development for MindChamps. 





The Thing Is…My Kids Ask Me 100 Questions! – with Bree James

One of the things about being a parent is; you get asked A LOT of questions. Everything from “Why is the sky blue?”, to “Why do dogs sniff each other’s butts?” And don’t forget “Why do I have to wear underpants?” Plus some of these questions aren’t even from our kids, they are from our significant other. I don’t know about you, but sometimes the constant questioning does my head in.

The thing is, I do love that my children are inquisitive. Some of the questions they ask are really quite interesting and I am so thankful for Google. When I was a kid, my mum would send me to the encyclopedia set on the shelf and I’d have to look it up myself. Otherwise I would just live with the fact that I’m not going to have an answer after many days or even weeks of pondering it.

These days, we can pretty much google anything and get the answer instantly. The questions that are actually inquisitive and a learning opportunity, I do not mind whatsoever, and I quite enjoy learning alongside my children. Kids ask some really great questions and I think I have learnt more from their inquisitive minds than I did myself at school.

However, the questions that drive me nuts are always the ones they really know the answer to;

Clean up your room – “WHY?”

Go to bed – “WHY?”

Don’t put your wet clothes on top of those dry clothes – “WHY?”

And you know your response isn’t going to be a one-off either. You could make these statements “go to bed” and get “WHY?” every night for years. It’s no wonder “because I said so!” screams out eventually.

My darling husband the other day was cooking from a recipe. He had it right in front of him. Yet, he asked me from the other room what the next step was…?! Or he’ll ask me “what am I cooking?”, even though it’s written on the meal planner (we prepared together the night before) right next to him.

My wonderful children will ask me what I am doing, even when they can see clearly what I am doing; i.e. sitting on the toilet.

My next favorite though, is when they ask a question, you give the answer, and then they ask you again. So, you give the answer in another way, and then they ask you the question again, so you give the answer in another way… and then they ask you again.

Sometimes you just shake your head and look back at their years on the earth and worry; did you have too much Panadol when you were pregnant or give them too much when they were teething? Or you second guess yourself and conclude that you really aren’t a good parent if you can’t answer your child in a way they understand.

The ultimate questions that make parent’s hearts stop or drop are the ones they ask perfect strangers. “Are you a pirate cause you have a patch on?”, “Did you fart- what’s that smell?”, “Are you dying?”, “What happened to your hair?”, “Are you Santa Claus?”, “Are you drinking because you’re an alcoholic?”

These questions are enough to tip any parent over the edge!

In the end, our children are going to question us just as much as we question ourselves. Questioning is a huge part of their learning, and even though it drives us nuts, there is nothing that can help you understand your beliefs and knowledge more than trying to explain them to a child with an inquisitive mind. Millions saw the apple fall from the tree, but Newton asked WHY? So as much as it drives us absolutely insane sometimes, take a breath, and ask “why do you think?”. This buys us a little time and encourages them to keep on searching and being inquisitive, or just walk away and clean their teeth like you asked them to.

Read more of Bree’s blogs for PakMag here. 

Check out the Bree James website here. 



Family STEAM-Powered Fun!

Get the whole family involved and help your children develop a love of STEAM with a family STEAM challenge night! The family can be split into teams to compete. Or, go head to head as individuals in a series of fun challenges. They won’t even know they are learning!

Children often need to learn through doing. They need to  see with their own eyes how things work as they discover the world. Activities encouraging playing, building and designing are fun. But, they’re also educational tools that can go far beyond the classroom. Plus, they give the family a way to bond and spend some extra time together.

All challenges are really just lessons in disguise. For example, if you have a challenge to see which person’s paper plane can fly the furthest, you’re actually discovering the wonderful world of physics and aerodynamics. By building the GraviTrax STEM Activity set, you’re not only having to work out how to build the tracks, you’re also learning about the power of gravity. For a really fun race, try and build the Engino STEM Hero Automotives and see which ones can go the fastest (use code PakMag15 for 15% off!). You could even get into teams and time who can build their model the fastest.

It’s a great idea to take a few minutes after the fun challenges to explore the important questions. These include what, how and why. What is gravity and why does it exist? How does it make the GraviTrax set work? How does gravity affect our everyday lives?

The Lessons in Mistakes

Allowing for failure is also an important part of STEAM challenges. When things go wrong, children learn from the mistakes made. From there, they build up better skills to problem solve. They can learn to think critically about how they can complete a challenge more effectively. We all know that there’s no better way to motivate someone than get them involved in a competition that they want to win. It’s important to redirect children to figuring out why something didn’t work and then how they can improve it. It’s very beneficial for them to experience failure so that they can adjust to disappointment. That might sound like a negative thing. It’s actually a great thing! It helps children to learn that there are challenges and roadblocks in life. More importantly, it helps them learn that these challenges can be overcome with brain power.

The Lessons in Teamwork

Activities and challenges that require teamwork are an amazing way to familiarise children with sharing ideas, knowledge and the concept of workload. It’s important that children learn how to adapt to working alongside others. It’s even more important that they learn just how amazing teamwork can be. Teamwork can often solve problems faster and/or more efficiently because each person brings different expertise and personal strengths. The world’s teams of engineers, builders, astrophysicists, doctors and so much more, have made some of the most amazing discoveries and structures ever… together.

The Variety of Methods

Family STEAM challenges are the best way to combine a variety of learning methods with having fun. They give children the opportunity to solve problems in unique ways, using all subject areas of STEAM. Through trial and error, taking risks and thinking outside of the box, children go beyond applying a memorised method or known solution to a specific problem, and create their own. By avoiding the ‘step by step’ approach to problem solving, they can get creative and take control of their own learning, all while it just feels like a fun game.

For great educational resources you can buy the ‘100 Easy STEAM Activities’ book by Andrea Scalzo Yi and the STEAM Powered Kids Kitchen Science set from entropy. Both are perfect for kids and the Kitchen Science set contains over 30 science experiments that can be done with everyday materials.

We hope you and your family have some great family STEAM fun together. 

Some Fun Family STEAM Challenge Ideas 

Who can build a boat that can hold the most weight in coins?

You can use 10 or 20 cent coins for this challenge. All you’ll need is tin foil, the coins and a bowl of water. Give everyone the same amount of tin foil and see who can build a boat from the foil that can hold the most amount of coins in water without sinking. Either get into teams or try the challenge individually. To step the n minutes for everyone to make their boat.

Tip: Once you’ve found a winner, take the challenge up a notch. Use a timer and only allow five or 10 minutes to build the boat. Try and see how many coins it takes to truly sink the boat. It might be more than you think!

Who can build the tallest sculpture?

For this challenge you’ll need plastic cups, measuring tape, popsicle sticks, glue or tape, and something to time with (optional). Lay all the materials out for the teams or each person. Then get building! You can set a timer to make it more competitive. The goal is to see who can build the tallest sculpture. The more creative you get, the better. Only the materials provided can be used.

Tip: If you want to make it even more challenging, try not using any glue or tape to hold the materials together.

Who can build the tallest tower that can hold a tennis ball?

Plastic straws, tape, a tennis ball and something to time with (optional) are all that’s needed for this challenge. Give every team or individual person the same amount of materials, then try and build a tower that is strong enough to hold the ball on top of it. Use the time limit to make it a fun race. This challenge is great for getting those critical thinking skills used, as the materials don’t make it easy to create a shape that can support the ball.

Tip: This challenge may be too difficult for younger children. If so, you can try use something lighter than a tennis ball. It doesn’t even need to be a sports ball; any small round object could work!

See who can build a paper plane that will fly the longest distance

Get some paper, preferably A4, measuring tape and a clear space (inside) ready for this challenge. The most basic version of the paper plane is easy to make: Fold the paper in half vertically. Open it back up and fold the top two corners in to meet the centre line, so it looks like a triangle on top of a square. Fold the top corners inwards once more and then fold these ‘wings’ backwards. Mark a starting point and have everyone throw their paper planes from there, using a measuring tape to see which pane went the furthest.

Tip: There are plenty of tutorials online for paper planes, from simple to complicated designs. Everyone can get creative and see which ones work the best for distance.

The maze race

Clear a table for this race and create a maze on top of it with blocks (or you can use whatever materials around the house that work best). Blow through a straw and see who can push their marble through the maze the fastest. You can even add little challenges like small homemade ramps and tunnels. This challenge works great for teams – the bigger the table, the more teamwork comes in handy. Place team members at separate places around the table, so that they can help out the other person(s).



Dispositions Necessary for Children to Learn

Recent events saw most children learning at home, under the guidance of their parents, and the direction of their teachers. Now, having returned to school, there are three conditions which are necessary for a child to LEARN. I am going to suggest that these conditions, or personal dispositions, are universally applicable to children everywhere.

The First of these Dispositions is Safety

First and foremost, for a child to be in a position to learn they must feel safe. Their safety would mean they have enough food, clothing and shelter, the basics for living a healthy life, so they can then concentrate on the task of learning.

In some circumstances, it is necessary for the school to take on that responsibility of providing food for a child. Breakfast clubs are quite common across schools in Australia, whereby children, who come from family environments that don’t have the capacity to provide breakfast for children, rely on the school to provide food, so the child has enough sustenance so they can concentrate in class. Clothing is occasionally also provided by the school. The school should provide children with second hand or even brand-new uniforms when their family cannot provide adequate uniforms. Uniforms help the child feel like they belong as they ‘look’ the same as their classmates.

The family home is the shelter in which most children live. Occasionally children may be living with other caring adults. Having a “roof over their heads” provides them with the third essential basic requirement. Other caring adults may include grandparents, other relatives, foster carers and family friends. Sleeping in a warm bed is important for children. The other element about being safe is that children know and understand their routines in life. They know who will be dropping them at school, and who will be picking them up. They have the confidence to walk out of the school gate at the end of the day knowing that someone who knows and loves them will be there waiting for them.

The Second Disposition is that of Connectedness

A child needs to have connections with their family and their social networks beyond their family. These networks can include their school or any cultural activities such as sport or artistic pursuits of the child. There needs to be connections between parents and grandparents who know and love the child. Then when a child moves to school, they will ideally find children with similar interests, potentially like-minded children with whom they make a connection and they form part of a group. The connections between a child and their parents and their school groups are critical so that they are part of a group which knows and cares about them. Being part of a group is key to a child’s well-being because human beings are social beings. We know, live, love, learn and work together.

The Third Disposition is that of Contentment

Originally, I thought the third disposition may have been happiness. But a wise colleague Jill Sweatman, the Brain Whisperer™, reminded me that happiness is an elevated state of joy that not everyone will reach. Everyone can reach contentment. My definition of contentment is that there is a degree of acceptance of someone’s current circumstances or lifestyle.

A child needs to accept their place in life; they need to accept the family in which they live; they need to accept the school which they attend; the social group of which they are a part; the limitations of their personal circumstances; and they need to accept (and embrace) the opportunities that life presents them. If a child is accepting, they have a degree of contentment, tolerance and understanding of their disposition in life. This then allows them to focus on the task at hand at school which is learning.

Children who are content and have an acceptance and an understanding of their circumstances may even find opportunities to embrace beyond their family and beyond school life. They already have a degree of solitude and comfort in themselves and their social network. Knowing that they are safe, knowing that they have connections, allows them to explore other opportunities beyond those to dispositions. (Please note acceptance of limitations of current circumstances does not mean that people should not strive to go beyond current situations for improvement. Striving to improve and excel should be a goal for all life-long learners).

The three dispositions described all have inks. It is not possible to have connections without being safe. Feeling connected without feeling safe is not possible. It’s not possible to feel content without having connections. And lastly, it is not possible to be safe without feeling connections These three dispositions are essential for a child to be able to attend to learning at school and beyond school.

Now that the majority of children across the country have returned to school, it only reinforces that those three dispositions are vital so a child has the framework and the capacity to attend to learning. If a child is safe, connected and content then they have the opportunity to switch on and to attend to the task at hand at school. Having returned to school recently it has been evident that the children who weren’t safe, who may not have had connections, and who were struggling with the changing circumstances over the last few months, may have struggled to attend to learning. Now that we have returned to our new circumstances, with the degree of some physical isolation still present, children are back in classrooms, back working with the teachers who know and love their job in providing high quality education for all children in front of them. We can reinforce these dispositions of safety, connection and contentment so that children will learn.

Once a child has these dispositions, they have the capacity to be receptive to learning. If any of these three dispositions are missing, threatened or jeopardised then the child’s capacity to learn is significantly impeded.

Let’s work together to ensure our children, our students, are safe, connected and content. Then they can learn and thrive.


About the Author 

Andrew Oberthur is the married father of two teenagers and a primary school principal, with over 30 years experience teaching and leading primary schools in Brisbane. Through his vast experience and own study, Andrew has developed three main areas of interest and expertise: School readiness for families / staff of children getting ready for school, building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers, communication skills for teachers and parents working together for the benefit of their common interest – their children.

Andrew has presentations on each of these areas available for families and teachers, as he believes that parents and teachers MUST work together so children can thrive in our modern world. In 2018 he published his first book “Are You Ready for Primary School This Year?” which is about building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers. His book is available from his website. He has done podcasts for PakMag, webinars with some leaders in their field, as well as various media appearances.


Read more PakMag Parenting blogs here



Driving and Self-Expression – Tweens and Teens July 2020

Getting Behind the Wheel

Before you know it, your teen is 16 and keen to get on the road. Teaching your teen to drive and to be good at driving is a lengthy process. However, it’s a skill that will stay with them for life. Later, they can pass it on to their own kids!

In Queensland, your teen must record 100 hours of supervised driving in their learner logbook (including 10 hours of night driving). This is done with a supervisor in the passenger seat. They must always display their L plates and carry their learner license. First, help your teen familiarise themselves with the vehicle. Secondly, find a good place to learn (such as a big empty parking lot). Thirdly, create a checklist for each lesson. Lastly, and most importantly, take it slow. You can get more information here. Good luck!

The Importance of Self-Expression

Teenagers use their appearance as a way to explore who they are. Often it’s through the way they dress, the colour of their hair or their dream to get their nose pierced. While their desire to do these things can be confusing and disapproved of by their parents, it’s important to realise that these modifications are temporary and can improve self-confidence and self-discovery.

Self-expression is a vital part of adolescence, and if an impressionable teen isn’t allowed to fully express themselves, it can affect them negatively. If someone tells them they can’t express themselves in a way that makes them comfortable, it can lead to them feeling unaccepted and insecure.

As long as they are not hurting themselves or anyone around them, there is nothing wrong with experimenting. Hair dye fades, hair grows out and piercings can be removed. Self-expression on the other hand…is the key to figuring out who you are.

You can read more of our Tweens and Teens blogs here



Top Tips for Helping Your Child Get the Most Out of Levelled Readers

For parents, it can sometimes be difficult to guide your child through their home reader and the various tasks associated with it. Here are the top tips from digital reading program Wushka for parents looking to help their children get the most out of their levelled readers, including the right questions to ask and how to encourage them.

Before reading:

  1. It’s important to get your child into the right frame of mind for a successful reading session. Try to find somewhere quiet and comfortable that is away from distractions. This will not only improve your child’s concentration and the quality of their reading but will also help to develop a positive association with reading as a method of relaxation.
  2. Before you start reading, ask your child to think of one question about the reading material based on the subject matter, their existing knowledge or what they can see on the front cover. You can then go back to this question once you have finished reading and try to answer it.

During reading:

  1. Use positive and encouraging language to support your child and avoid making comparisons to others (i.e. siblings) in terms of reading progress. If your child makes a mistake when reading, allow them to continue to the end of the sentence without interrupting them. Then, go back to the mispronounced word and ask, “What’s that word?”. Be patient and allow your child time to self-correct if they have made a mistake and avoid using negative statements, such as “That’s wrong.”
  2. If you are reading a story with dialogue, you could encourage your child to use different voices, or take it in turns to read the dialogue of different characters in voices. This will make your reading session more enjoyable and engaging, and your child will enjoy your participation.

After reading:

  1. Encourage reflection on reading material by asking questions that are related to the book they have just finished. Things such as the below will help your child take more away from the book while also helping you know more about what they took from the experience so you can provide feedback to their teacher if needed:
  • Did you enjoy the book? Why/why not?
  • Who was your favourite character?
  • Who was your least favourite character?
  • Did the story end how you were expecting?
  • Would you have ended the story differently?
  • Did you learn any new words from reading this book?
  • Did you learn any new facts/information from reading this book?
  • Does this story remind you of anything else you have read or seen?
  • Would you like to read more books like this in the future?


About Wushka

Wushka is an Australian cloud-based digital reading program that can be used at both home and school. Together with print-based educational publisher Learning Media, the reading program has been designed with the knowledge of how students and teachers learn. The team are passionate about helping children develop lifelong reading schools and supporting the teaching community. 


You can read more PakMag parenting blogs here.