Learning loss, reading sabbaticals and no shoes - it's the 'Back to School' special

Around this time in August, every year for the last ten years, we prepare a big 'back to school' display in the shop. Usually it's a mix of 'first day back at school' titles along with a variety of dictionaries and books to help with handwriting, maths and spelling.

This year, we want to do something a bit different.

OK, OK, so my writing skills are a little rusty...
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If you are a parent - possibly a grandparent, and indeed anyone who's been looking after children for the summer - I'm sure the start of the holiday began with ambitious plans. Plenty of activities interspersed with regular writing, reading and maths exercises to keep that schoolwork fresh in the mind and ticking over.

So how did that go? That good, huh?

Teachers refer to the hiatus in schoolwork over the Summer as 'Summer Learning Loss'. Yep, it's a thing (it even has its own Wikipedia page). But before moral panic sets in about what you might or might not have done better over the holidays, here are the Mostly Books top tips to make sure the start of school is a positive experience for everyone (including you).

1. Don't panic

There is still at least a whole week left - and possibly longer - before school starts, and to be honest schools are well aware of the situation and tend to ease children back into the whole learning thing. Don't beat yourself up about it.

"Atomic weights?
Isn't this graduate stuff???"
At the same time, don't pass the buck completely to the school. There are definitely things you can do now that will have a huge impact on the start of school. Remember, this isn't just about the start of school, this is about getting into the swing of good study habits for the first few weeks of the year.

Here are a few (small) ideas from the shop that we reckon can make a (big) difference over the coming weeks. And of course, you can always come in and ask for our advice as well!

2. Starting school - get excited

You may have had a blast when you were at school - or hated every minute of it. But there's often little you can do to control your own children's reaction to starting school, but the best thing is get excited with a child ahead of school starting.

And a book can help.

Along with a few of our favourites such Usborne's 'First Experiences' series, or 'Topsy and Tim Start School', we love Sam Lloyd's 'First Day at Bug School', Sam was the creative force behind 'Calm Down Boris' and this a funny' delightful books about a bug's first day at school down the bottom of the garden is both a fun story, but creates a space to discuss any anxieties your child might be having ahead of the big day.

A few weeks ago, we had a special visit from Hugless Douglas, and you can bet he has a whole load of ideas of how to survive little school. As well as a brand new Hugless Douglas 'Numbers' book, we recommend taking a look at 'Hugless Douglas Goes to Little School'.

3. Maths and Writing Skills

There are some imaginative and fun activity books to help children with their reading and writing. We've got a big range of early reading and writing books for little ones, including the Letts animal-themed series 'Wild About' which includes books on counting, writing, reading for ages 3 up to 8.

But we have been particularly impressed with Scholastic, who took characters from the Star Wars universe and created a whole series of workbooks for KS1 and KS2. Whether its lightsaber poems, Yoda's wisdom on verbs or learning along with the young Ewoks, this might just be a great way of channeling your child's obsession with Star Wars ahead of school!

All of these titles tend to be around the £5 mark, so our suggestion on how to boost excitement? Give your little one a budget to come in and choose a book for starting school from our table...

4. Book v Gadget - getting that reading back on track

Whether you have a bookwork or a reluctant reader, there is easily enough time between now and the start of school to read a whole book. Don't think so? We can help.

"The best minds of my generation are
thinking about how to make [children]
click ads" - Jeff Hammerbacher
Years ago, reading was often something that children did when they got bored. That doesn't really happen nowadays. There is always something they can turn to - often a phone, gadget or game - and reading does require a lot more effort.

You need to create some space and give a story the chance to put hooks into the imagination.

Over the past few years, we've banged the drum for starting a reading group with whoever lives in your house.

Here's our cut out and keep 5 step plan to starting a family reading group.

We think you should do this anyway throughout the year, but for this coming week, how to pull your kids off the gadgets and get them giving a book a try?

Firstly, try 'no electronics' periods. Get everyone to stack their devices in one place for at least one hour whilst reading takes place (this works great for mealtime too - we tried it recently at a restaurant, and the effect was nothing short of revolutionary, as it's often adults who are the worst offenders with checking their mobile phones!).

We also recommend Noel Janis-Norton's advice for getting co-operation with your children on any new task - and we really recommend you read 'Calmer Easier Happier Screen-Time' for a great plan to turn electronic devices from a battleground into a positive experience for everyone.

5. Keep it short

Next, find a book that is going to have the best possible chance of getting finished. It's no use giving them a 'classic' of 400 pages if they are out of the habit of reading. Again, give them a budget and bring them in to choose their own book - but allow them a lot of leeway in terms of the book they choose - we often recommend Barrington Stoke titles which are fabulous, page-turning stories by some of our best writers, but are short and help build momentum in getting reading back on track.

Some of our favourite new titles: 'The OMG Blog by Karen McCombie' and 'Monster Slayer' by Brian Patten and illustrated by Chris Riddell. But come in and have a look at the range.

6. Tap into their interests

Is your child into something like cars or cooking? Find a story that appeals! We love 'The Secret Cooking Club' by Laurel Remington.

Scarlett has no life - she fears that her Mum will ridicule anything she says or does on her blog, but when the old lady next door has a fall she discovers that sometimes being a friend is more important. As her secret cooking club grows so does her circle of friends. It's a lovely story about friends and family and what holds them together.

Would your child rather be shooting zombies than reading about baking? Don't worry - there's a book for that. Curtis Jobling's 'Monster Hunter' features Max Helsing, descended from a long line of monster hunters, who does a pretty good job of keeping up a schoolwork by day, whilst keeping his town safe from demons, ghouls and the occasional mummy by night.

That is, until he turns thirteen and discovers he's been cursed by an ancient vampire who wants him dead - at any cost. To save the world - and his life - Max must rely on his wise-cracking best friend, cantankerous mentor, computer genius neighbour, and brand-new puppy...

Here's a few ideas - we have many, many more. Whether it's revision guides, dictionaries, reading lists for school or universiity - we're here to help. Come on in to the shop and let's get to work!

(And that cartoon at the start? It's from the brilliant Fowl Language comic strip, possibly the funniest comic about the realities of 21st century parenting we know from Brian Gordon. There's a collection of his comics now available in the shop, and trust us - you'll laugh out loud :-)

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