Top Ten Summer Reads for Primary School Kids

For the last post of the year I would like to welcome our first official Guest Blogger, Katrina Whelen.

Katrina has three kids at KPS (Patrick in grade 4, Finn in grade 3 and Edward in grade 1), works as a freelance writer and has her own book review blog at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

She started her blog as a simple online reading journal but found that it quickly turned into a wonderfully distracting time-waster.

Katrina also reviews books and music for children at the parents’ lifestyle blog, Babyology.

As the last two posts have been very hi tech – a review of the school’s iPad program – I thought it would be good to finish the year by getting back to basics. Katrina has come up with a list of Top Ten Books for Primary-aged kids.

Top Ten Summer Reads for Primary School Kids

In putting together this list, I tried to pick titles that kids may not have discovered yet. I’ve selected stories that aren’t gender-specific – after all, there’s no shortage of fairy books and dragon stories but finding something that appeals to boys and girls alike can be trickier. I’ve also included two books for ‘reluctant’ readers (although I always say that there’s a book for everyone, it just takes some people a little longer to find their topic!).

kps-prep-grade-1 1. The Claude series by Alex T. Smith – perfect for Prep-Grade 1 kids who want to read ‘chapter books’ but aren’t quite there yet.

2. Figaro & Rumba and the Crocodile Café by Anna Fienberg & Stephen Michael King – Grade 1+. The adventures of a cat and a dog by the author of the hugely successful Tashi series.


3. The 13-Storey Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths – Grade 2+. A great mix of text, illustrations and cartoons plus Griffiths’ particular style of humour.

4. Wonder by R. J. Palacio – Grade 3+. This is one of those rare books that everyone should read, regardless of age.

5. The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart – Grade 3+. The theme of these stories is problem-solving and they’re written in such a way that the reader can ‘help’ find clues and solutions along with the characters. The books are supported by an impressive website and there’s a movie in the making (so get onto the books now!).


6. Mosquito Advertising series by Kate Hunter – Grade 4+. Set in Australia, the series focuses on a group of kids who run their own advertising agency.

7. Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead – Grade 4+. Clever and mysterious characters combined with important themes make for a winner.

8. The Word Spy by Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle – Grade 5 +. The secrets of language unlocked! Keen readers will find this book fascinating. There’s also The Return of the Word Spy and The Word Spy Activity Book for more.


And for reluctant readers –

9. Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow Grade 1+. This is a very old book but full of nonsense recipes that will have kids busy in the backyard.

10. Guinness World Records 2013 – all ages. Apart from the fact that Kew Primary is in this year’s edition (p.10), the amazing photographs and bite-sized text are irresistible to kids. Plus, this year’s edition includes interactive 3D elements, so put those iPads to work.

Tim’s Bookshop in Kew either has these titles in stock or will be able to order them for you if they’ve sold out.

iPads@Kew (Part 2) The Students

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow:  John Dewey, American psychologist and education reformer.

Last week I spoke to Andrew Wood and Chrystal Sumpton about the iPads@Kew program. This week I met with a group of students to get their perspective on the program: Chelsea and Ahmaey (Grade 3), Ethan, Daichi and Caitlin (Grade 4), Irfan, Alison and Danna (Grade 5) all took half an hour out of lessons to give me the inside story on the iPads.P1050879

I started by asking each member of the group to give me an example of how they had used their iPads at school and this led on to a discussion about their favourite apps, both for school and home.

Ahmaey: I liked doing research about the sun. I used Google and Safari and I typed in certain things about the sun. I wanted to find out about the different layers, and about the sun’s life span. I use Pages a lot – it’s good for spelling words – and I really like Keynote – you can animate – and my favourite app for home is Clash of Clans.P1050870

Caitlin: We made our portfolios using Creative Book Builder. We wrote about the things we’d been doing in class and showed it to Andrew and then we presented it to the rest of the class. I really like Keynote, which is like PowerPoint and has different layouts for presentations.  iPads make it really easy for you to work by yourself. You don’t have to say: ‘I want to use this now. Can you move please?’ There are no arguments. My favourite app for home is Dragonvale.P1050851


I did a project on black holes which is a part of space where there is a lot of gravity and I searched for information using Safari. It’s much faster having your iPad to do your work and do research. I like Keynote and Garage Band.

Ethan: I did a project on volcanoes. I looked up volcanic eruptions on Wikipedia – and I also used Safari to do research. I looked at the top sites on the list that came up because they are always the most relevant. We use Dropbox in class; Andrew uploads work for us to Dropbox and it’s just there quickly and easily. I really like Creative Book Builder and at home I use My Brushes Pro which is an art game.

Alison: I did a presentation with a group using Keynote. We used Safari to do research, and then we wrote text and added pictures and presented the information. I like Creative Book Builder and Keynote. The good thing about having iPads at school is that it’s just more fun!P1050862

Irfan: I’ve been writing a narrative on Creative Book Builder. I typed in the text and then added media – pictures and video clips – to create the whole story. It’s really easy to use.  I like to read newspapers and books on my iPad. At the moment I’m reading the autobiography of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (No, I didn’t know either; European soccer player, apparently). And you can email your homework to your teacher. I like Garage Band and Keynote and my favourite game is probably FIFA 13.

Chelsea: I like using Creative Book Builder or Scribble Press for creative writing.  Once you’ve learnt how to use them, it’s really easy and it doesn’t take long. Sometimes I write an outline longhand then I use the iPad to make a book which you can publish and put on iBook. I really like iMovie and Draw free.P1050861

Danna: I really like to use my iPad for maths games; there are lots and they are really fun. I also like making iMovies and using Garage Band. There are lots of good things about the iPads: you can do research more easily, there are great apps for maths, you can do presentations in lots of ways, and I like typing more than writing. At home I play Minecraft – everyone is playing it now – boys and girls. About a year ago no-one was really playing it, but now everyone does.P1050878

When I asked whether the iPads made school more fun, there was a loud and unequivocal ‘yes!’ Ethan said that the really good thing about them was that you didn’t have to stand in line and wait for a computer any more. You could start straight away and use it as long as you needed to. It was much quicker and a lot less frustrating.  Irfan said the iPads made it easy to have lots of new research experiences and it was a lot easier to do projects.  They were much quicker than the old computers which were pretty slow. Sometimes the internet dropped out – and you couldn’t get it in Room 7 – but mostly it was pretty good.

I put it to the group that some parents were a bit worried at the start that kids would spend all their time at school playing games and doing things on their iPads they shouldn’t and I asked them (in strictest confidence, of course ) if they knew of anyone who had ever done this.

Sometime kids do go ‘off task’ I was told. There was one time during silent reading that someone tried to play Minecraft, but they had the volume up so they got caught. And sometimes kids use a feature called Multitask where you can do up to five things at once and you can move really quickly between each one – but the teachers know about it and they check.P1050854

And what about at home? Are there rules for when you can and can’t use your iPads?

Ahmaey told me he’s not allowed to use it after school in the week but can at the weekend and Chelsea said she’s not allowed to use in the mornings or she doesn’t get ready in time, (there was general consensus on this one).  Someone told me they occasionally hide in their dad’s big cupboard full of stuff and play on it in there, and someone else had been known to play under their covers at night.

After the kids had gone back to class, I sat for a while and thought about everything they’d said. I have to say I was impressed; they spoke with such ease and confidence and were very articulate. They have a very broad knowledge of the apps and programs and of the technical aspects of these devices, but they also have a sophisticated understanding of how they can use them as a learning tool. Yes, you can play games on them and that’s fun, but they are about so much more, and these kids recognise that.

It’s a very far cry from how I learnt, and it’s certainly taken me some  time to get used to the idea, but I’m really glad my kids are doing this program and I think they will be very well prepared for high school and afterwards because of ipads@Kew.

Jacqui Tomlins


The principal goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what older generations have done:  Jean Piaget, French psychologist and education pioneer.


iPads@Kew (Part 1) The teachers

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic:

Arthur C Clarke

Earlier this year Kew Primary introduced an innovative new program called iPads@Kew. All students in grades 3 to 6 were encouraged to buy or lease their own iPad for use in the classroom. The program had been trialled in other schools and Kew’s ICT Team was keen to introduce it, especially as our existing computers and laptops had all seen better days.

Back in March, the ICT Team organised an information night where parents had the opportunity to find out more about how the program worked and to ask a broad range of questions. Concerns were raised about safety and security – both practical and cyber – and there was some concern that the kids would end up spending a lot of time playing games and surfing the net. Lots of parents were unsure what the kids would actually be doing with the iPads, and some (me included) worried about the time lost reading books or writing by hand. There was also concern about the significant cost of the devices and whether all families would be able to meet that cost.

So eight months down the track I thought I would check-in with two members of the ICT Team, Chrystal Sumpton (Grade 6) and Andrew Wood (Grade 4) and find out how the program is going.

Jacqui: Let’s start with a general question: How was the implementation of the program? Did you encounter any problems or glitches?P1050841

Chrystal: The implementation went far better than I expected. I was really impressed with how the staff and students embraced the program. To be honest, I was actually quite shocked at how seamless the whole process was.  Before the implementation – at the information night – we had so many questions from parents and in hindsight I think that was really good. It was challenging at the time, but it really made us aware of all the potential problems and the concerns that parents had. In the long-term I think it made the whole implementation much better.

Andrew: We really listened to the parents’ concerns and it forced us to clearly articulate why the iPads were not just a novelty, a fun device for playing games and browsing the internet, but an effective tool for teaching and learning. I thought we’d have lots of issues with security and all sorts of teething problems, but we didn’t. Not at all. I was surprised at how well the implementation went as well.

Chrystal: I think the whole program has been a mind-shift for everyone – teachers and parents. It’s the programs and apps that you can use with the device that make it such a rich learning experience for the students and such a powerful teaching tool. I think many parents hadn’t been exposed to those programs; it’s not just a device for playing games and web-browsing.

Jacqui: So tell me a little about what the kids actually do with their iPads.

P1050844Andrew: They use them to do research; so this term we’ve been doing a lot of work on science and the students have used them to find out about the solar system and planets and black holes, for example; one student found an app about elements that demonstrated what happens when different elements come together. Other students looked at the Periodic Table, molecules and gravity and a whole range of other science based topics.

We’ve also been working on how they use the search engines, so using key words and effective questioning, rather than typing in a whole sentence. We’ve talked about how you can assess which sites will be the most useful, and we’ve also looked at referencing and acknowledging sources.

Chrystal: Another key use of the device is for organising and presenting their work. There are so many great ways to do this: Keynote, Simple Mind, Creative Book Builder, even iMovie. The students can chose a way to present their work that matches their own particular learning style. It gives them a great sense of ownership and is very powerful.P1050963

One of the things we’re looking at for the future is developing digital portfolios. Clio did a professional development course and shared what she had learnt with other staff at a Tekkie Brekkie. I think it would be great for the students and it would be an excellent way for them to showcase to their parents what they’ve learnt during the year.

Andrew: We’ve also been using Edmodo and Dropbox and the kids are learning about social media and networking, and working collaboratively. Because we monitor everything very strictly, it’s very safe and they’re learning about how to use social media in a responsible way. They use it to chat with each other, ask questions about their work and the teachers can post messages as well.

Chrystal: I think iPads are great for encouraging creativity generally, whether it’s writing a script for an iMovie, or writing a song for Garage Band. I’ve seen how much confidence it gives them. Even when they are just doing research – it’s all about their own exploration and discovery. They come up to me with their iPad and say: ‘Hey look at this! I found it. It’s really cool.’P1050954

Jacqui: I know parents were worried that the kids would be sneaking their iPads under the table and playing games, or looking at things they shouldn’t on the internet. How do you manage that?

Andrew: We monitor what they’re doing very closely and yes, some students will sometimes flip to a game, but we are onto that pretty quickly. They know there are consequences if they are caught – time away from their iPad, for example, a call home or a written record depending on the circumstances. We keep a close eye on their settings and we have regular spot checks where we just look at a student’s iPad and see what they’ve been doing on it what and what they’ve downloaded.P1050947

Chrystal: We had an issue with some students sending each other iMessages during silent reading and we got onto that straight away. We spoke to the students involved and to their parents; we reminded them of the ground rules and the consequences if they did it again. Apart from that, some students try to work on their projects in silent reading time, and we’ve had some trying to use their iPads at snack time. Mostly, we’ve been really pleased and impressed with how they’ve used them.

Jacqui: I’m curious about how much time they spend working with their iPads. Do they use them every day, and for what percentage of the day?

Andrew: In Grade 4 this term they’ve used their iPads for between 30%-50% of the day, but this varies depending on what they’re working on.P1050935

Jacqui: One of the other concerns parents had was that some families would simply not be able to afford to buy an iPad and it would set up an ‘us and them’ situation. How has that all worked out?

Andrew: I understand that, but I don’t think that’s been a problem; there’s really no sense of social division. At the start of the program I’d say about two-thirds of each class bought iPads. Some parents waited and then bought them which was fine. Now, I’d say there are only 2 or 3 students in each class who don’t have one. We have a bank of laptops, and a stack of iPods with all the same programs and apps, and each teacher has their own iPad a student can use if needs be.

Jacqui: So what is the plan for next year?

Andrew: We’ll continue to run the program for Years 3-6 and we’re talking to teachers in the lower grades to find out what they think. The general sense is that Preppies are just too young – they have enough going on – and probably Grade 1s, too. We’re still thinking about Grade 2s.

Chrystal: And we have some big-picture, long term goals. We’d love to set up a recording studio, and have a radio station with technical equipment, mikes and green screens.

Andrew: For next year, we want to work on refining how the iPads can be used as an effective teaching tool, and how they can improve learning outcomes for our students. These six months have been an exploration and we’re in a good position now to build on what we’ve learnt.P1050968

Jacqui: The Tekkie Brekkie I came along to was really informative. Have you run a few of those?

Andrew: Yes, they’ve been really good. We’ve run about 10 or 12 so far with about a dozen staff at each. We’ve covered: Dropbox, Creative Book Builder, Evernote, Keynote and Pages; we’ve looked at the Settings page in some detail, and talked about software updates and how to personalise your iPad.

Jacqui: And if parents still have questions or concerns?

Andrew and Chrystal: Talk to us anytime, or anyone from the ICT Team – Chelsea Carmichael, Sally Downer, Clio Williams, Tahnee Planner and Melissa Hayes – or to their child’s class teacher.

Jacqui: Thanks for your lunch time, guys, and for all your efforts with the program.

In iPads@Kew (Part 2) I’ll be talking to some students from Grades 3-6 about their experiences of using the iPads.

Earlier this year I wrote an article about the implementation of the program and the use of tablets in primary schools more generally for the parenting magazine, Melbourne’s Child. You can read the article here:

Jacqui Tomlins