This morning my husband had to drive his Mum back to London and offered to take #2 with him so that I could hang out with the Mancub for the day. It’s always a treat to have a bit of one on one time with my biggest, and I had it in my head that we would do whatever he wanted with the day, while free from the schedules of preschool and his little brother. It would be nice to follow his lead and see what came of the time.

As soon as I asked him what he fancied, he instantly replied, ‘The Aquarium!’. Not what I expected, but I happened to have a 50% off voucher, plus it was a rainy Saturday, so feeling awfully spontaneous, we headed straight off on the bus.

So often we are out with others, be it the rest of our family or friends and, quite rightly, we have to find compromise and go at the pace of the group. It is nice, on occasion, to not have to nudge the Mancub along, or have him keep up a pace that is either too fast or too slow for his liking. Today the day was entirely his. We rushed through the initial tanks of tropical fish and straight to the rock pool area, where he happily stayed for half an hour, talking to the expert, leaning in and touching the starfish and shore crabs and operating the mini camera. I instinctively went to move him along several times, but he was clearly completely engrossed, so I bit my tongue and let him stay. We whizzed through several other sections too, pausing briefly to take in octopus and jelly fish, before getting to a digital exhibition on prehistoric marine reptiles. ‘Prehistoric is my favourite word!’, he declared, and that’s where we spent the remainder of our outing. It was an absolute pleasure throughout.

As we were in town we popped to the library and took out some books on sharks and fish, then headed home via a pizza restaurant, where he proved that he is still my favourite lunch date, because no one else I know scoops up and eats garlic butter using cucumber as a makeshift spoon, but really more people should.

Back home he spend the rest of the day playing PREHISTORIC MARINE REPTILES! using some of his dinosaur toys and told me that mudskippers are really his favourite fish.

I can’t remember a day where parenting felt so carefree and relaxing. A nice reminder that slowing down and letting them take the lead, avoiding that instinct to always hurry on, often pays off in the end.

Learning at home: Reading.


This week, at just shy of three and a half, the Mancub learned to jump with two feet, and read. One of those things was just on the cusp of worryingly late, the other? Well allow me at least a second to Mom brag: the boy can read. Words. Short words admittedly (cat, dog, pot, win), but he sees them, sounds them out, and then tells me what they say. To say that he is excited by this development is something of an understatement. He laughed hysterically for a minute after he read his first word before shouting, ‘Write another!’. And another. And another.

At this point I believe I’m supposed to insert some sort of platitude along the lines of, ‘It’s incredible! Unbelievable! I don’t know where it came from!’, which would be something of a misnomer. I do know where it came from, because I taught him to read. So obviously I knew it was coming and it doesn’t really surprise me, but nevertheless, I’m pretty blown away by it. I’m only human, just like he is only three.

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to share a few of the strategies I have used here, because they are things you can do with a child of any age, providing they find them fun and engaging and providing they are ready. Feel free to take a few of them away, or just ignore them and write me off as a terrible show off. If you’re new to this blog or don’t come here often I should also probably point out that I am a primary school teacher by trade, hence my ability to ramble on about this topic for far too many words.


I don’t think there are many things that we are obligated to do as parents. Feeding and clothing our children is a good start. A few toys are essential I suppose. Love, warmth, affection, but certainly nothing as complicated as the thousands of parenting books on the market would suggest.

Reading for me, like clothes and food, is a non negotiable. Stories, comics and magazines. Poetry, nursery rhymes and information books. All children love being read to, and if they are read to frequently, all children will, eventually, want to learn to read for themselves. It might be when they are two, it might be when they are seven, but I fundamentally believe that children have an innate desire to learn that needs little encouragement.

What we, as parents, carers and teachers have the power to do, is to put out that flame of desire in an instant if we push them too soon, or make reading a chore. Learning anything, whether it’s riding a bike or reading a book should always come from a child’s willingness and ability to do so. I’m absolutely not advocating here that we sit down all kids at age 3 and teach them phonics (that that is happening in nurseries across the country makes my heart sink), just that we to read to them, as early and as often as possible, then the rest will naturally follow.

But, my kid showed an interest. He had that desire, and he has a good grasp of words and letters, so I did some things with him that moved his reading forward to the point he is at now, where he can decode short words himself and make a good guess at many others based on their context and initial letter. Here are a few of the things we’ve been doing over the past year.


Strategies for Reading With Children.

As I have said, for me the single most important thing a parent can do with regards to their child’s education is to read to them. I had a bedtime story every night until I was around ten years old, and I still remember the feeling of sadness when I realised I was too old to have one any more. No child would ever want to read unless they have an incentive to do so. Reading them stories that they love provides that incentive, as well as about a million other benefits.

Alongside this you can begin to introduce your child to the phonetic alphabet. There is no harm in teaching letter names (A, B, C etc), but it is more beneficial in terms of learning to read to teach the phonetic sounds (A is a hard a, like at the start of Apple, B is buh, C is cuh, E is eh like at the start of Elephant etc). I bought a few simple alphabet books and used these as a starting point, (I would trace the letter with his finger and sing ‘Buh is for ball, Buh-Buh-Ball or whatever was on that page). We also played with magnetic letters (Can you find me puh for parrot?), letter jigsaws and stampers. We wrote letters on pebbles and we traced them in the sand. (Side note: our ridiculously complex language means that all letters can represent many different sounds, so it’s best to go with the most common. However the Mancub’s name ends in a y, which in his name makes an ‘ee’ sound like at the end of monkey, so I taught him right away that Y makes a ‘yuh’ sound at the start of words, but an ‘ee’ sound at the end. He doesn’t seem to find this too confusing, but usually refers to Y as ‘ee’. You might want to do this if your child also has a phonetically complex name such as Phillip or Cedric).

As your child begins to learn some of their letters and sounds you can introduce games like I Spy. The Mancub always finds this easier if instead of spotting things around the room that we can actually see, we play on a theme, (I spy with my little eye, an animal that begins with duh… Duck / a dinosaur that begins with sss… Stegosaurus / someone who begins with mmm… Mama). Sometimes I would collect a bunch of objects on a tray and we would play I spy with them, and you could also use those ‘find it’ books. The point of all this I spying is to focus on the initial sounds of words, as a segue into being able to spell and read them. As a way of encouraging them to think about it from the opposite perspective you could ask your child, I’m writing a card to Grandma, what letter does Grandma begin with? If they’re old enough they could write or use a stamper to print the first letter for you. You could also do this when your writing shopping list (what letter do I need at the start of bananas?), or you could write a story together (they tell you a story, you write it down, but ask them for help with some words).

If your child is enjoying books, they know most of their letters and can pick out the initial sound of familiar words, you might like to start helping them to segment words (break words up into their individual sounds), and blend them (put them back together again). This sounds complicated, but is basically what we’re doing all the time when we read and spell unfamiliar words. We sound them out, we turn those sounds into a word. A nice way to do this is play a game based on your child’s interests. The Mancub loves Octonauts, so I ask him, ‘Which Octonaut am I? D-a-sh-ee’, and he is able to put those sounds together to say, ‘Dashi’. We have done lots of this sort of thing on different themes, and he likes having a go at sounding out words for me to guess too.

Finally, once you put those skills together, you have the building blocks of reading. In time your child will go from having the component parts, to being able to look at a word and sound it out ‘c-a-t’, and know that it makes the word cat. It’s magic really, and it does just seem to happen over night. Of course not all children take this route to learning to read, but it is the one most commonly taught in schools now.


This is the beginning of a long journey. The Mancub doesn’t yet know that sometimes two letters go together to make a sound like sh or ch. He finds it hard to read words longer than three letters, because it’s still too challenging to hold onto all of those letters in his head and blend them. And then there’s words like ‘the’ and ‘was’ and ‘he’, that can’t be sounded out and just need to be learned by heart.

But he’s on the road and he’s so excited to get going that it’s infectious.

I hope you’ve found some of these little activities of interest or of use. Ultimately I think my only advice is to be led by your child, to use their interests and enjoyment as a starting point and to do little bits here as they want to, (we play these games for no more than a few minutes at a time, and by no means each day).

If you’re child is anything like mine, the laughter that follows the first time they read the word ‘bum’ out loud will be worth it.

Going it alone.


Today, for the first time ever, I dropped the Mancub off at a crèche, and left him. Without me. Or any member of his family. FOR A WHOLE FORTY MINUTES.

Clearly I was racked with a whole gamut of worries about what might happen to my beautiful and unique snowflake once he was lumped in with a bunch of other utterly average children. WOULD THEY RUIN HIM FOREVAH???

Luckily he seems to have escaped unscathed, but these were legitimate concerns you guys.

At one point I walked past (read: stood hovering outside of the window for the majority of the time) and saw a paint brush being placed in his hand and being guided into the shape of a smiley face. AND HE WAS ENJOYING IT! It was as if he has no concern at all for the creativity I have diligently nurtured in him over the past two and a half years. The betrayal was palpable.

I finally managed to tear myself away to go and get a coffee. I returned a while later and there he was, still totally happy, playing with the doll’s house, barely registering my presence as I walked into the room. I only managed to get him to willingly leave by bribing him with a smoothie.

So this is… Good? Of course it is, it is great. To be able to leave him and take his brother swimming once a week, while he is gallivanting in a ball pit and painting and playing with different toys and children and not missing me one iota.


Couldn’t be happier.

Five Photos.

Five photos from the week. Every day stuff, the things we get up to. I don’t take enough photos, so perhaps this will remind me to start taking more. I might even learn how to use my fancy camera properly one of these days.

^^Sometimes I get an itch to do something with my hair. It’s been long, short, super short, pink, blue, red, and very, very blonde. But sometimes I want to keep it long and don’t want to fuck it up with any more bleach. So the only option is to shave the bottom off. Now I just need to decide what to do about his.

^^After a long, intense day of potty training, sometimes what you need is to put the kids to bed and head down to the beach to sit and stare and revel in the lack of children.

^^While I was at the beach I collected some pebbles and wrote words on them. The Mancub has been having fun learning what they all say and lining them up to make silly sentences. This is such a great pre literacy game. The shape of the pebble and the different coloured writing makes the words easier to learn, but he feels as if he can read. Empowering.

^^Um, you got a little something on your nose there buddy.

^^Is there anything more perfect than a row of cloth nappies drying in the sun? We got a new delivery of Easy Peasy Bumbles this week and if you are looking for a cheap and massively absorbent nappy solution that will genuinely take you through to potty training, then I totally recommend them.

Reader Question: Stuck In A Play Rut.

(My daughter) is totally obsessed with playing pretend, to the point where she doesn’t ever want to do anything else. She has a lot of little dolls and figurines, but this is THE ONLY THING she ever does. Of course she constantly wants me to play with her, and I love playing with her in general, but I find playing pretend with her so incredibly dull, and if I try to spice up her pretend plots in any way she gets mad at me. More than anything else, I would like to see her show more interest in play that involves fine motor skills, like any sort of art project, puzzles, stacking/nesting toys, blocks, legos. We have all of those things, and they are all out where she can see them and easily access them on her own, but she has no interest in them. I try really hard to get her to give them a try. I’m always asking her to play legos with me or color with me or practice writing with me, and she usually just flat out refuses. Sometimes she will color with me for a few seconds, but her attention span for it is very short. She just grabs a crayon, does a few quick linear scribbles, and wants to do something else.

Do you have any suggestions of things we could try, games or activities that I maybe haven’t thought of that would pique her interest? Or any strategies for showing her how fun different types of play can be, other than simply sitting down and modeling them myself for her.

There is a real fad at the moment for specific activities to develop fine motor and pre literacy skills, often under the banner of Montessori. You see them all over Pinterest and they’re things like matching a colour wheel or transferring objects using pincers. The activities are typically not open ended, so they are intended to be completed by the child as opposed to being used in multiple ways. Let me say right away that there is nothing wrong with these sorts of activities, lots of kids love them and will do them over and over again, but if your child is… not so into them, have no fear. I am strongly of the opinion that children learn best when they do so under their own steam, when they learn through play and when they are fully engaged in an activity. A child is not going to fall behind in the great fine motor skills race because they weren’t given the opportunity to fish for ping pong balls using a tea strainer.


If we as parents are going to best facilitate our child’s learning, we too need to enjoy the experience, so clearly, there needs to be some middle ground as an (understandably) bored parent will probably lack the enthusiasm to draw out a genuine learning opportunity. So how to find play that everyone enjoys?

To keep things interesting I try to organise our day into different types of play and activities. In the morning we work and play independently, so I am about the house cleaning, baking bread, doing laundry etc while the mancub plays pretty much on his own. This is generally when he plays with his figurines, or sits and listens to CDs, or builds towers, which is the sort of play I am less inclined to want to join in on (sometimes yes, but not for hours every morning thank you). He is always welcome to join me in my tasks and sometimes comes and helps or plays alongside me while i tell him an improvised story, but I have tried to set pretty strict boundaries that during that time I am busy and he can either join me and help, or do his own thing. This is now really successful (after a long period of adjustment), and it gives him the opportunity to play creatively on his own, which I think is really valuable.

Then later in the morning or after lunch I dedicate some one on one time, where we do activities that are a bit more focused and are things that I enjoy as well, so maybe gardening, art, stories or puzzles. Again, these are optional, and certainly never enforced, but here are some things I would suggest to make them more appealing for both of you.

1. I’m a big fan of the mantra ‘process over product’, which basically means trying not to have a fixed outcome for any task. Sometimes I put out glue, paper and a bunch of things to stick and instead of sticking anything he just arranges them nicely over the page. I have to work really hard to not say, ‘Don’t you want to stick them down? With the glue?’, but the more freedom he has over the process, the more he will get out of it, so I try not to interfere too much, (it’s pretty torturous quite honestly) and just put out some materials and invite him to explore them.

2. To make activities appealing, I try to work with his interests. Currently he is big into Star Wars action figures, and while my husband will sit and play with those all day, I never know quite what they’re supposed to say or what noises they make. I can however make some Star Wars playdough with the addition of black food colouring, a bunch of glitter and some sequinned stars. Playdough is an amazing activity for motor skills, but is open ended so there’s room for lots of creativity and most children love it. If your child is into dolls you could make cookie coloured playdough with foam choc chips and make a tea party, or of course do some actual baking and make a real tea party. If they’re into Winnie the Pooh could you make tree houses for the characters by painting up some shoes boxes and collecting things from outside to go in them? Or if they like playing with a farm set you could use the toy animal hooves to do printing with. Again, follow your child’s lead and don’t worry too much about the outcome or if they don’t ‘complete’ the task.

3. With that in mind I also think it’s important to plan activities that a child can do with the minimum amount of adult input. So the idea of building a fairy castle out of boxes and tubes might sound great, but realistically you’re going to do most of the work. But they can probably manage to paste some coloured tissue over a box and stick on some precut windows and doors (not necessarily where you’d expect them to go!) with little help. This is really important as it gives them ownership over the task, allows them to develop their own skills and you can sit back and just notice what they’re up to. Janet Lansbury talks a lot about sportscasting, which is basically just saying what they’re doing, ‘Oh you did some great big splodges with your paint brush, now you did a big swoosh and the colours mixed together’. Doing this definitely helps me to minimise the interference and stops me from trying to ‘direct’ the task instead.

4. Finally it definitely helps to keep toys and materials interesting if they are rotated. I don’t have any set time on this, some things stay out for months if they are being played with, but if they don’t get played with, they go away and come back a few weeks or months later, when they’re often greeted with fresh enthusiasm. If you’re child isn’t into Lego yet, no amount of encouragement will get them there. Probably better to put it away and present it in a new way in a month’s time, when it will more than likely be snapped up. I find that things like puzzles have a shorter shelf life than more open ended toys as once they’ve been done a couple of times that’s kind of it. I like to get puzzles from charity shops so it doesn’t matter if they’re only used a few times (ones that are a bit of a challenge are usually the most successful), but toy libraries or swapping with friends could also be a good way to introduce new puzzles without spending a lot.

PS. For amazing ideas for creative and educational play I always go to The Imagination Tree, which is just such a fabulous resource and definitely worth a look.

Reader Question: Preschools

imageI have a few questions for you… Hope you don’t mind. Will you send Mancub to nursery school outside the home? Will it be a Montessori school? When would he start? What do you think about Reggio based schools? Any suggestions or advice on how to transition into a school setting (ie how many days a week, how to start talking about it etc)? Hope you are well. Your boys are divine.

First of all, I loooove getting questions. An excuse to talk at length about my opinions on childcare? Are you kidding me? Let’s go.

I am currently taking an extended career break so I can look after both boys at home full time. I am lucky that my husband often works from home, so he also plays a very active role in their upbringing, and my parents take the mancub (and will eventually also take #2), for one day a week, but they do not attend any kind of childcare setting.

In the UK children are entitled to 15 hours a week of free childcare in a nursery or preschool setting from the age of three. Because the mancub is October born and therefore one of the oldest in his school year, this will come into play two years before he is due to start school. I am still undecided on when he will take up this free provision.

Before I get into why I am undecided, I want to categorically state that I don’t think that nursery is ‘bad’ for children. Lots of children do really well at nursery and lots of parents have no choice but to send their children to one, whether they want to or not. I am not laying guilt or judgement onto anyone here, ain’t no one got time for that.

However, for me and my children I have a preference to keep them at home for as long as possible. This is in part because I thoroughly enjoy my role as a stay at home Mum, I only get to experience their childhood once, and I am maxing it out. I enjoy spending time with them, planning activities, going on outings and watching them learn and develop. So from that perspective I am reluctant to outsource childcare until it is strictly necessary.

I am also passionate about early childhood education, and, rather arrogantly I suppose, I don’t think anyone is better placed to educate my children than me. The huge advantage of learning at home is that it can be entirely child led, which hopefully makes it all the more enjoyable. For example the mancub is currently very into telling stories and having me write them down. This is something that I think he gets a lot out of and we are able to dedicate a lot of time to, because I am essentially one to one with him. But at the same time if he loses interest in this, we’ll just move onto something else, rather than working to a set curriculum or agenda. I wrote more about incidental learning here.

Of course the most commonly cited benefit of children attending nursery is the development of their social skills. I would agree that if we choose to put off sending him to nursery, that we would have to continue to ensure that he has lots of opportunities to mix with other children. We already tend to do this through play dates with friends and attending toddler / singing / gym groups etc, so I am happy that he is being given plenty of chances to play along side his friends, to resolve conflicts and develop relationships, all important life skills.

So when do I think he will go to school? Ideally I would like him to attend the preschool attached to our local infant school, beginning at some point in the year before he will start school proper. When exactly that will be is dependent on when my husband and I feel that he is ready for that transition and /or if we hit a point when we think that preschool would have something to offer that we are unable to provide at home. Of course the caveat to that is if I need to start work sooner than that, in which case we would look for at private nursery provision, but that wouldn’t be my preference at the moment.

With regard to Montessori, Reggio and other alternative methods of schooling, I wrote about them here and basically concluded that they all have their quirks and advantages, but that no method of schooling is perfect. As a parent you just have to go with what feels right for your child and the school you feel they will be happiest at. I think it’s easy to get swept along with educational fads and what people on the Internet are talking about, but all you can do is visit your local schools and find one that makes you feel genuinely excited to be there, where the children are smiling and the teachers seem warm and approachable and passionate about their jobs.

Finally, when it comes to transitioning your child, I can’t say that I have a whole load of advice, as it’s not something that we’ve done yet. That said, I know that there are lots of books out there that deal with starting school, which would be a good starting point. Most childcare facilities offer settling in sessions, so you can attend with your child, and then leave them for just an hour or two to begin with, increasing to a half day and then a full day. If you are not offered this it would definitely be worth investigating and seeing if you can arrange this sort of transition programme yourself. The main thing though, I think, is to acknowledge to your child that this is a big step for them and that they may feel anxious or afraid about being left. I think it’s important to resist the urge to tell them they’re being a ‘big boy or girl’ because they’re starting school, as I don’t think it’s a good idea to create shame around them not necessarily feeling brave or excited or happy about going. All you can do is support your child in how they are actually feeling in the process and know that, while it may take some time, they will soon become familiar with the new routine and come to enjoy their time at school. Even if you’re left sobbing on the door step as they run off to play happily without you.

If you have a question or would like to get in touch, please leave a comment or email

Learning At Home.

As a primary school teacher by trade one of my favourite aspects of being a stay at home parent is embarking on a journey of learning and development with my two year old. I’m a big fan of incidental learning, or finding opportunities to learn through play as opposed to having any specific learning goals or things that I want him to achieve. I try to be led by the mancub, his interests and the sorts of activities and play that engage him and then go from there.

I thought I would share some things that we’ve been doing lately to capitalise on those incidental learning opportunities, which we have both really enjoyed, although be warned, that is largely because we are both extremely awesome total geeks.

We are by no means a strict Montessori family, but I do like many aspects of the Montessori philosophy. My favourite is having frequently rotated materials available at the child’s level for them to access independently. In our lounge we have a shelf that currently houses a CD player and audiobooks, a globe, some wooden animal puzzles, magnetic letters, a basket of train track and building blocks, a large collection of Schleich dinosaurs, plenty of books and… a giant Darth Vader. In the dining room the mancub has access to his own art supplies, which include an easel and chalks, paints with stencils and sponges, sugar paper, felt tip pens, stamps and ink and a tin of playdough with various cutters and tools. He can get most of these out on his own and use them at the dining room table, while others (such as the paint) require a little help setting up. I’ve found that having easy access to his own toys and materials really encourages independent play and it means he can always find whatever he’s looking for. Rotating them rather than always having the whole lot out also keeps things fresh and stops the spaces from being over crowded.

For me, the most exciting aspect of learning from home is that you can totally follow your child’s interests. The mancub has gone through several obsessions, beginning with birds and butterflies, progressing onto animals and he is now fascinated with the world of dinosaurs. He also shares his father’s love of all things Star Wars and has a collection of figures and space ships. As each of these interests has peaked we have supported it by acquiring or borrowing appropriate reference books, toys and other materials. I am less concerned with what he is learning, and more interested in creating a love of learning through play and to help him to develop the skills to learn himself.

A recent example of this is how we use the indexes of different reference books to look up words. The mancub likes to have me read about dinosaurs and when he wants to find one in particular he knows to turn to the back and find the corresponding initial letter sound in the index (so, ‘d’ for diplodocus or whatever). I then locate the dinosaur name, tell him what page it’s on and we find it in the book together. To him this is a game and to me the fact that in doing this he learns more information about the subject is almost by the by, because he is learning the skill of looking something up in a book, as well as reinforcing letters and sounds, which are far more valuable lessons in my opinion, but to him are incidental.

Talking of literacy skills, again I’ve always thought that it’s best at this age (and really, at most ages) if these are acquired as organically as possible, rather than being learned by rote or pushed before a child is interested. The index game is a good example of this, but we also use materials such a letter stampers with ink and magnetic letters, which turn learning letters and sounds into a creative process. The mancub enjoys asking me to spell out words and being challenged to find certain letters himself. We also play an approximation of I Spy where i challenge him to think of a word for each letter of the alphabet, which is great for keeping him entertained when we’re waiting at restaurants or in the car. I know this wouldn’t necessarily appeal to all children, but this is really the sort of thing he loves and a fun five minute activity when we have some one on one time together.

Again, when it comes to numbers, there are so many opportunities to bring these into every day life and in different ways. Counting time (I’m going to count to ten and then turn the tap off), objects (you can have five grapes, help me count them) and movement (counting the stairs as they are being climbed) are fairly obvious examples. Then there is weighing in cookery or measuring his height, but my current favourite links to the mancub’s love of his CD player. He often asks for particular songs, so we have taught him how to use the skip function and he can identify the numbers on the display to find his favourite songs. I think this is such a lovely example of using numeracy in a practical context that he really values.

While we subscribe to much of the Montessori way of learning, I personally place a much greater emphasis on the value of imaginative play. I try to give the mancub time every day to just play with his toys on his own without interruption and I love listening in as he narrates the story and creates his own little worlds with his action figures. Sometimes however, I will build on his independent play and take it into other activities. For example recently he was playing with a little police construction set that he has. He was putting his velociraptor in between two towers that he had built and I heard him say, ‘He is hiding behind the tree and looking for plums. Then the mancub ate all the plums in one great mouthful.’ I thought it was a really nice bit of dialogue, so I wrote it down on his chalk board and read it back to him. He really liked having his own story read aloud and asked me read it several times before drawing a picture underneath it, which he told me was a giant plum tree. All of this took about ten minutes but it was a simple way of turning his imaginative play into some shared writing.

All of this probably sounds very formal, but it honestly isn’t. Most days we’re both just bimbling along, playing, reading, getting chores done and lunch made and nappies changed. But it’s nice if a couple of times a day I can watch what he is doing and then in some way move it forward a little, or use it to teach him something new. As I said I have no agenda. Like all toddlers he soaks up new knowledge like a sponge and my only goal is to foster and continue that love of learning and then see where it takes us.