‘Hooks into books’ is an approach that has been developed at Alver Valley Schools over the past year or so. The process of bringing books to life using props, the outside environment and drama to introduce and explore story themes and characters thereby immersing children in the story and enabling them to ‘be the book’, has become an embedded part of our pedagogy in Early Years and is being explored across the wider school in our Nursery class and in years 1-3.

The impact, in terms of levels of engagement as children are immersed in the story, is evident in both adult and child-initiated learning, levels of motivation and engagement levels. The way in which children then choose to explore themes and ideas creatively in their play in Year R as they direct their own learning has been the real joy of the approach. If you have read our other articles ‘Hooks into Books’ or ‘Hooks into Books: Year R Meet the Gingerbread Man’ you will be aware of what we mean and glad to know that Goldilocks is still going strong and up to mischief at Alver Valley Schools, and the Gingerbread Man still sends us the odd postcard! #ifyouknowyouknow

It was on one fine, sunny, lockdown day, a ‘closed but not closed’ day, that our book was first conceived. Actually, it was during our planning session. As a team we wanted to explore the mini beasts theme that was currently grabbing the interest of the children who had returned to school. Knowing how our children responded to an approach of hooks into books we wanted a simple repetitive story that would act as a model for language to support our children, who had returned to school after many weeks away, giving them a motivating and meaningful opportunity to write where we could lower the cognitive demand through use of a memorable pattern and allow children to practice and apply their writing skills. The frustration in the room came from the lack of the right book. After some time, research and discussion I said something along the lines of, “This is ridiculous, we should just write our own book.” (Is frustration a driver for anyone else?) The idea was met with a snort and laugh, but I followed up with, “We could, we just need a repetitive phrase like ‘The day the mini beasts came to school’.” The idea was not immediately shot down and so we started to work as a team to refine the idea and create the first two pages as a model for the children. We drew a front cover and wrote the first two pages and we were ready to go.

The team then translated the idea into the classroom. The adults shared the first couple of pages of the ‘book’ with children, and floated the idea of being authors. The children were keen and the challenge was set to create their own pages for the book following the pattern. Create they did! Children explored favourite mini beasts and what they knew about their movements, demonstrating and using words to describe them. They then enthusiastically wrote their ideas to describe how their chosen mini beast moved. And thus we had the basis of a book.

Now, we could have stopped there but that’s not really how we are wired. The idea that ‘we should write our own book’ did not go away. (Just like the artificial grass and the Bear Hunt messy art day, eh Mr Cook?) As a team working together, capitalising on each other’s strengths and supporting each other’s creativity, we have learnt we can achieve some extraordinary things and so the thought then developed: “What if we could turn these ideas into a real book?”

With nothing to lose, and after a little research, we decided to explore the world of self publishing. We had the book words, which just needed sorting and editing to order and combine some of the ideas, so next we needed to consider illustrations. Initially we wanted to use a combination of the children’s illustrations and our own attempts at illustration; however, the only way to translate these illustrations into images that we could add to our book was high-spec photography, and we did not have the equipment needed to produce the print-worthy images we wanted. So we looked for alternative methods. We happened upon Procreate, an illustration app available for iPads (other devices and apps are available!). After a play and quick demonstration from a friend we discovered the amazing capability of the app that allows you to draw and paint in layers, editing and adjusting to create print-ready images that could be saved in a format that could be inserted into the book. The process was addictive and suddenly the idea seemed actually possible.

After the images were created it was time to combine the images and words on the page. For this, and to create the front and back covers, we engaged the services of a friendly graphic designer, who helped us to set out the images using a desktop publishing application. After some tweaking we were ready to go. The book was then uploaded to the Amazon print-to-order platform KDP (Kindle Digital Publishing), an ISBN was added (free via KDP), plus subject, keyword and description information, and after some proofs and adjustments we were ready to go. Whilst we were learning all of these new skills we decided we would add a QR code to the back cover of the book which would allow the reader to access extra content. (QR codes are definitely a largely untapped resource. They allow you to add value by linking to online content that can demonstrate and extend the learning – again, free and easy to create, more will follow!)

This whole adventure of book writing and publishing proves the oft-used statement that we at Alver Valley Schools are life-long learners! The thrill of learning new skills and working as a team to achieve a goal which celebrates our children’s creativity during a time of world-wide restrictions has been a privilege and pleasure.

If you so wish you can find the book available to purchase on AmazonAll of the monies raised from any sales will be invested into the Alver Valley Schools reading curriculum.

Ali Lockwood

Head of Schools Alver Valley Schools

You can follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

If you are interested in finding out more about Alver Valley Schools go to www.alvervalleyschools.co.uk

To read more about the Early Years approach at Alver Valley Schools check out our articles on the school website in Spotlight on Alver Valley.