Updated: Nov 4
Willow the Wonderer now comes with its own 'Early Childhood Learning Hub'
The wonderful world of Willow the Wonderer just became even brighter today with the launch of our "Early Childhood Learning Hub".
The Early Childhood Learning Hub contains a wide array of learning guides and teaching resources to accompany our Willow the Wonderer picture books, which not only impart seeds of wisdom, but also make early childhood learning effortless.
We take great care to weave the threads of wisdom and knowledge into the folds of fantastical narratives and beautiful illustrations that Willow the Wonderer books have come to be known for.
This is what allows for the learning to occur naturally - simply through storytelling - and what makes the Willow the Wonderer series, the perfect educational books for kids today.
The Early Childhood Learning Hub comes with resources and guides to complement this learning experience:
They speak to the wisdom and the early learning objectives built into each book, providing the backstory, inspirations and references that we drew on to write and illustrate these books.
We've also include blogs on the creative process that Darren and I, as the illustrator and the author, go through when producing the books, which hopefully help the budding little artists and writers out there.
We've been working on this resource for a little while now - and will continue to update it with inspiring new ideas and content. Our hope is that helps parents, teachers and educators make the most of our books in their homes and classroom.
Supporting early childhood learning through storytelling
Darren and I started writing the first Willow the Wonderer picture book because we wanted to create beautiful stories that planted seeds of wisdom - these were stories that we wish we'd read growing up.
Storytelling is said to be one of the most powerful ways to teach and inspire.
So in addition to weaving in a little seed of wisdom into the story, it felt apt to also incorporate an early learning outcome into the book - taking care to choose one that naturally lent itself to the given narrative.
I have discussed the wisdom component in depth in many other blogs (will provide additional links below). The focus of this blog will be on the early learning outcomes in the Willow the Wonderer books.
These early learning outcomes, which we also refer to as the knowledge component of our books, are the practicals things that we feel is critical for the little ones to know about as they grow up into adulthood.
All books, by virtue of being books, already help kids to learn to read - and Willow the Wonderer books are no exception. They help the little ones develop literacy skills and even makes it easier, as they are written in perfect rhyme.
Verses enhance the learning experience for young children as they are not only more engaging to listen to but also more easily remebered than say, a straightfoward prose. This makes learning new words and to read in general, become a whole lot easier - one could even say that the learning occurs naturally. No rote learning to become a spelling bee required!
We however, go a step further and incorporate an additional early learning goal to reading in every book.
Early Learning Goals in Willow the Wonderer Books
Book 1 - Willow the Wonderer : Makes counting fun
Our goal was to help kids become absolutely comfortable, if not fall in love, with numbers and counting. We also wanted this learning to occur naturally.
Why? Because way too many people grow up scared of numbers and math! This fear tends to last well into their adulthood and is one of the reasons they can end up in financial strife.
Kids need to learn numbers in a way that removes the scare factor. In Willow the Wonderer (Book 1) we've done this by incorporating the counting in the rhymes and embedding the creatures in their natural environment - so the counting exercise in effect becomes a game of hide and seek. And if you struggled to find all the creatures, you can thank Darren for that. He had a bit of fun trying to make the exercise as hard as he could!
What about the wisdom? The first Willow the Wonderer was grounded in age-old universal wisdom or insight on happiness. You can read more about it in this blog.
Book 2 - Willow the Wonderer - Honey Time: Makes the world colourful
Our goal with Honey Time was to help children learn the many natural and creative expressions of colour - well and truly beyond the basic education of primary colours that they usually receive.
We wanted them to learn to take their time to look at things more closely and see the different shades and facets and forms that things take - and with that we wanted them to feel free to name things as they made them feel.
Why? Well because life is just much more interesting in colour. Knowing that there are so many shades will hopefully get the little ones become more observant and creative in their own expression and use of colour. Besides, becoming better at colour coordination has never hurt anybody...
What about the wisdom? Honey Time talked about the wisdom of slowing down, becoming still and becoming present to everything that is transpiring in the present moment. You can read all about it in this blog.
Book 3 - Willow the Wonderer - Space Odyssey: Poetically introduces the science of astronomy!
Our goal with Space Odyssey was to introduce the science of astronomy and open up kids' minds and imaginations to the vast cosmos that surrounds us!
With light pollution blocking out most of the stars in our sky, we don't get treated to the spectecular show of the cosmos that our ancient ancestors would have witnessed every night. So we forget how vast our universe is - and therefore how small we and our problems are!
There were also some astronomical facts and concepts that we wanted to start introducing our younger readers to:
We live on a planet - and she is called Earth.
Our planet spends all her time dancing around a star - our Sun - whilst spinning rather elegantly on an axis.
We wanted to give them a glimpse into the myterious force that is gravity - something that keeps us pinned to ground but is also what keeps the Earth and all other moons and planets spinning around the sun.
And finally, that there is a vast, vast space out there - full of many more stars, planets and moons - all ready for exploration!
Why? Because space is one of the most exciting frontiers in science and in our lives - and it needs many, many wonderers and explorerers to study it before it will reveal all its secret. Besides nothing evokes wonder and wisdom like the cosmos do.
And yes, we know that strictly speaking Astronomy isn't on any 'official' early learning curriculum ... but it ought to be!
What about the wisdom? Space Odyssey talked to the wisdom of the astronauts - the Overview Effect - feeling a deep sense of connectedness to our planet and to all its beings. I discussed this in depth in this blog.
Willow the Wonderer books makes early childhood learning effortless
We are two humans, producing a body of work, based on deep reflections on our own lives, education and upbringing. With the benefit of hindsight, we are creating books that we feel in our hearts would have helped us navigate life that much better.
This is first and foremost through imparting wisdom - insights on life - and secondly through making it easier to understand, absorb and be exposed to the most practical and wonderful knowledge our human race has discovered.
But is it really helping with early learning on the ground?
To answer this question as objectively as we could, we road tested our first book - Willow the Wonderer - ourselves.
We 'road tested' the first book to make sure we got the book design right
We took up the offer of a friend (and our customer number 1!) to host a storytime with her local playgroup at Crescent Head - and get first hand feedback from a very energetic group of toddlers.
I have never been more terrified to do a 'presentation' before ... lets face it, kids give it straight. If they are bored, they will just walk away.
Thankfully, storytime turned out to be a hit!
Everything we had hoped to achieve from the book design worked a treat: There they all were, deeply immersed in the imagery as I read out the rhyme, eager to seek out - and count - all the creatures hidden in the fantastical landscape.
To the little ones, it felt more like a game of hide and seek than a lesson in numbers! The olders ones also mostly understood the moral of the story - and how Willow finally finds happiness on the inside.
Both these lessons will no doubt grow through repetition - and from what we are hearing from parents, the little ones are wanting to go through the books again and again!
First-hand feedback from parents, teachers and educators confirm that Willow the Wonderer books are perfect for early years learning
We rely heavily on feedback from our community of readers - which include Grandparents, Parents, Teachers and Early Childhood Educators - to understand how they are using the books, how their students, children and grandchildren respond to it and what they are think of it overall.
1. Parents love that Willow the Wonderer books are helping even very young children learn and remember new words
In sharing her feedback for Space Odyssey, one of our First Readers' Club member who has been using the books with her daughter since she was six months old mentioned,
"The book [Space Odyssey] looks great. One thing I love about rhyming is that it helps my 3 year old remember words. We read Willow the Wonderer tonight and she remembers so much of the story. This way I hope the story stays with them and helps form their way with dealing with the world."
Many other grandparents and parents have shared similar feedback, including how Willow the Wonderer has become a favourite for their little ones - some aske for it to be read every night and have even memorised the whole story verbatim (even I have not managed to do that!).
You can read these and all other reviews we've received from our community on any page on our website - just click on "* Reviews *" on the left hand side of the screen.
2. Primary school teachers love the message in Willow the Wonderer books
The feedback from primary school teachers has also been overwhelming postive.
I will share the feedback from one primary school Principal who we started working with late last year. We were bowled over by her love for the book and dedication to make sure her students become aware of it and take the message to heart.
Late last year she sent us an email.
"Firstly, Reeta and Darren your books are incredible and as a previous Prep teacher the message resonates very strongly.
The reason for this email is to let you know we wish to use your book to be the catalyst for our School Production next year.
We were wondering, with your permission, could we use the illustrations as our back drop? We will narrate the story and the children will come up with their thoughts and ideas as to how they reflect each section."
We were of course overjoyed and happy to help (and hoping to share a story on the world premier of theatrical production of Willow the Wonderer soon!).
She too was overjoyed and informed us that she had read the story out as part of her Year 6's graduation ceremony introducing the book as follows:
"... I often read the book at this time “The places you will go!” by Dr. Seuss. Although still a favourite, it is time for a change of message for this extraordinary group of students. I have discovered new book by author Reeta Dhar and illustrator Darren Pryce – this message is for us all but very much for our students as they graduate...
“Willow the Wonderer ...
As you race around in haste in our busy world remember to be like Willow - take the time to reflect. May you always, find the happiness that lies within you and stretch your boundaries to as far as they can go. It has been a privilege to have you as our year 6 students."
I think it is fair to say that it is teachers like these that we continue to remember with a lot of gratitude later in life.
3. Early Childhood Educators are coming up with creative ways to use Willow the Wonderer books to extend the learning, play and fun
Many early childhood educators have also told us that they love using the books with their young charges. We've included Reshmi's story in the Hub as were amazed at the creative ways in which she extended the learning through developing new learning outcomes and creating engaging new activity.
With Reshmi and her community's permission, we've shared her fantastic report on Willow the Wonderer, incase it inspires others to use the books in new and interesting ways to support early childhood learning of their little ones.