Friday, September 30, 2011


It took 23.5 months and a large number of teeny-tiny marshmallows for Nicholas to finally finally take his FIRST STEPS!!!

I was planning a post this morning all about the progress Nikki had made in his stubbornness - he was 'walking' across the hall on his knees. Then Uncle Harry invited us over to play in the garden (since it is unlikely to be garden weather for much longer) and after much crawling and bouncing on the trampoline we went indoors to give the poor cat some peace.

We were talking and Nikki managed a half-step half-fall towards me from standing in the middle of the room. Of course, we got all excited but he refused to repeat the feat. So, out came the teeny-tiny marshmallow bribery - if Nicholas took steps towards me, he got a treat. This worked as an incredible incentive -  in no time at all he was taking 12 steps across the room!

He is still wobbly and a bit bandy-legged, but once he got the confidence to actually let go he was off! We had him crossing the room for about half an hour before he refused to cooperate any more. Not surprising as he was half an hour past dinner time, tired and still feeling a little under the weather.

I have another lot of marshmallows ready for tomorrow morning!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sleeping Angel

I went in to check on Nikki this evening, and found him kneeling on the floor with his head on the matress, sound asleep! By the time I found my camera, he was like this:

This is the first time he has ever slept on the floor (that I know of). I was impressed with the gradual slide out of bed - I would never have known he was out of his bed if I hadn't popped in when I did.

Even more impressive, he didn't even stir when I put him back in bed - usually any slight movement will wake him up completely and even at night it takes a few minutes to re-settle him.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bees (part ii)

As Nikki still didn't have a bee he could play with, we made another out of paper. I cut out the body and wing shapes, and Nikki drew on the stripes with a black marker (which I think is the one he used to decorate himself, too).

We then stuck on the wings and pulled them off again!

 I stuck the poor crumpled bee back together and added a stick. Nikki had fun making him go buzzz around the room, but wouldn't perform for the video camera. 

Now we have two happy bees to play with!

Artistic Interlude

Before we began making bees, Nikki decided to decorate himself. I was not very impressed, but held off on stripping-and-bathing until after our impromptu crafting - best not ruin 2 outfits in half an hour!

It almost looks like someone wanted to become a bee...


Nicholas has become interested in bees recently. He likes to point them out in his books, and this afternoon he was quite insistent that he wanted one. So, we made bees.

 First, I used foam. I helped Nikki draw around an oval template on yellow and white, then cut them out. I cut the white oval in half for the wings.

I then cut som stripes from black foam and helped Nikki stick the bee together.

We then stuck a stick to the back and drew on a face to finish our bee.

 Unfortunately the glue didn't stick it that well and Nicholas easily de-winged it. I re-stuck it with PVA and hope it will fare better once the glue dries.

Friday, September 23, 2011


We are sticking with colours for the rest of the month, since Nikki seems determined that the only colour is green!

We are also falling behind our book challenge target, as Nikki keeps demanding we read his Chinese books - I now have 3 books memorized and two more  almost there! I also splurged on the 36-book set and some other billingual books. At this rate we should be good until around Christmas!

Colours Sensory Box

Over the summer, Nikki has been playing with a sensory box I made up of packing peanuts, a bucket, spade, rake and some shells. I have finally set up a new colour-themed sensory box!

 I have included:
  • coloured shapes cut from foam paper
  • coloured lacing buttons
  • coloured puffs
  • large plastic tweezers 
  • the coloured pots from his paint pallet
  • a large scoop
  • a clip-lid box containing a shoelace and large plastic needle

 I have also got colour flashcards to use together - a small English-Russian set that Nikki helped me paint at the beginning of the summer, and a larger English-Chinese-Russian set.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tea and Keyboards

DON'T MIX!!!!!

Nikki poured tea on my keyboard so it died (after spending a day shutting the computer down if I pressed delete or the right arrow key) so I am stuck using the on-screen keyboard for now. So forgive the lack of posts over the next week or so!

 Doesn't he look adorable in his baby hat! He found it and won't let me put it away - he keeps asking for his 'hat-eeeee'.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Little Reader

I must admit, I am fascinated by Early Learning, and as such Nikki has become my guniea pig. I am already amazed at his language learning, but most of all at how much he loves learning. I have always been determined to pass on my love of learning, and it appears that he will not be sated! Until he wants to stop, I will find every resource possible to entertain and teach him.

The best (and most entertaining) resource I have found so far has been Brillkids' Little Reader. This is probably the most diverse program you could find for teaching toddlers. It uses the whole-word approach to teaching reading, using flashcards, as well as showing pictures and (when appropriate) films.

I can't really say how much this program has been teaching Nicholas to read, because he refuses to be tested. However, it has been a fantastic way to teach him words. He knows more body-parts than most children his age, because he has learned about them on Little Reader. When we covered the lessons on animals, he very quickly learned what every one of 20 different animals 'said'. To me, the possibility that he is learning to read is an added bonus - his speech and vocabulary have literally exploded since we started using the program.

The central part of each lesson is fifteen words from three different groups. Each word is shown, followed by a picture then a video. To get the most out of the lessons, though, you must interact with your child. When shown a picture of an ear, I kissed or tickled or blew on his ear. I talk about each picture and listen to what he tells me about it. I help him perform the actions. For the 2-3 minutes of the lesson, my attention is focused completely on playing with Nicholas.

Apart from their 12-months worth of lessons built-in to the program, you can also make your own lessons and cards. There is a vast library on the Brillkids site of lessons that other parents have made, in many languages. Using some pre-made and some of my own cards. it has been easy (if time consuming) to create a Russian syllabus. This has had the effect of drastically increasing the number of Russian words and phrases that Nikki uses and understands. It has also helped me to focus on certain sets of vocabulary, building on what we have covered with Little Reader rather than picking topics at random.

Better yet, they have released a Chinese curriculum! This is by far Nikki's favourite, and he will demand it several times a day. Even if he only learns a handfull of the words presented, he gets to hear authentic Chinese 1-2 times a day and is being exposed to the idea of Chinese pictographs and how completely different they are from the Latin/Cyrillic alphabets.

We can't get enough of Little Reader in this house!

Jones' Geniuses

An American specialist in accelerated learning, Doctor Jones has developed methods for teaching Reading, Maths and Spanish. His first 'test subjects' were 20 inner-city 2nd-graders whose home language was Spanish and who were woefully behind in English and Maths. By the end of the year, their average reading age was a little below 4th grade and several went on to beat MENSA PhDs using calculators in a Maths test - using mental arithmetic. Hence the name Jones' Geniuses.

I found out about Jones' Geniuses on the Brillkids forum, where several parents were discussing the merits of using his early learning package with their young children. After much thought and speaking online to Dr Jones at an online seminar, I bought it.

Threshold to Reading is the language side of the kit. Here Dr Jones introduces a very thorough and complete breakdown of phonics (did you know there are 15 vowel sounds in English?!) and, most importantly, how to teach it! There are a set of fantastic animal-based flashcards, a reading book, parent's dvd and a guide on how to use Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Once Nicholas has mastered his letter sounds, it should be a matter of 3-4 months to get him reading to a 3rd grade level. Or so Dr Jones says!

I am not expecting anything so drastic - I will be happy if Nikki is sounding out simple words by his 4th birthday. I am simply not one to wait until the schools say he can learn to read and would rather he have the one-on-one attention and affection he will have in learning with me. Besides, we spend barely 15 minutes a day on all our reading games, and that includes the computer time!

The Matrix Math kit covers everything from learning numerals to addition and subtraction. I am very taken by the simple method of putting the quantity inside the numeral. So far, we are only on stage one of the program - counting forwards and backwards to 20 and placing dots. We can't really progress until Nikki has mastered this, and can understand 'bigger' and 'smaller'.

Again, there is no pressure. By starting now, Nikki has three or four years to master the numbers and letters and still be ahead of his peers. I don't want to force him to learn, and only ever do these games when he wants to - he happens to love counting (perhaps because I allow him to bang the wall when we use the number line) and enjoys counting various objects on and off our Matrix dot flashcards.

I probably come across as a crazy pushy mother, but Nicholas is one headstrong child and if he doesn't enjoy something he is quick to tell me. Usually it is him demanding his 'lessons' and me trying to distract him with toys so that I can finish the washing-up or ironing.


As promised, I'll talk a little bit about the early reading programs I am using with Nicholas. We are using two approaches - whole word and phonics.

There are a lot of people who say that the brains of young children haven't developed enough to learn phonics until around 5-6 years old. They say that they are simply incapable of associating a symbol with a sound. I am somewhat confused about what difference there is between learning that 'cows say moo' and 'a says ah'.

Since Nikki's language has developed enough to pronounce most of the sounds we use in English, I have decided that there is no reason not to start teaching the basics of phonics. We have a set of phonics flashcards from the Oxford Reading Tree (a charity shop bargain) and have been using the song from Leapfrogs Letter Factory. The program itself is quite good, and Nikki will watch about half, but at an hour long I can't allow him to see it very often. Although there are many dvds and computer programs that I use with Nikki, I limit his screen time to no more than an hour a day with very rare exceptions.

Using this rather tedious and repetitive song (which Nikki obviously loves) we are learning the 26 basic sounds of English. Today, for the first time, Nikki finished the song with the final sound for most of the 13 letters we reviewed.

We are also using the website Starfall to revise letter sounds. They have catchy animations for each letter, though it can be overly-American in places. Nicholas loves this site, though we only do a handfull of letters each time, to limit screen time and keep him interested - ie. always stop BEFORE he gets bored!

The final program we are using for Phonics is Threshold to Reading, which I will dedicate a separate post to.


This morning I woke up to find that Nikki had once more turned out his underwear drawer. While creating the usual spread of pants, socks, gloves, swimming trunks and ties, he found a hat. The hat was from last summer and way too small, but apparently he likes it.

He's been wearing it all day, and doesn't seem too bothered that it comes off almost as soon as he moves his head! What a cutie!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I haven't spoken much about doing Russian with Nicholas. Make no mistake, we may be loving Chinese at the moment but Russian will always be his second language. The reason I don't mention it so much is that it is such an every-day thing for us! We speak Russian as often as I remember to (not as often as I would like!) and I make an effort to do most activities twice - once in English, once in Russian.

Thus Nikki's Russian succecesses are not being lauded as quite so impressive as Chinese, since I actually do speak Russian with him and have done since he was born. So here is an update on Nikki's Russian progress (which I estimate to be a couple of months behind his English):

Nicholas says hello, goodbye, please, here you are.

Nicholas can name parts of the body: hair, eye, nose, chin and bellybutton.

Nicholas can point to parts of the body when asked: head, eye, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, arm, leg, bottom.

Nicholas can ask for food: milk, biscuit, porridge, banana, cheese, pizza, bread, juice.

Nicholas can recognise foods: strawberries, raspberries, tea, water, pasta, potato, carrot, cake/pie, eat, drink.

Nicholas can say bath words: splash, bubble-foam (as opposed to bubbles)

Nicholas can understand bath words: towel, bath, bubble, dry off, get dressed, change nappy, put on nappy, get undressed, swim.

Nicholas can understand actions: wave, point, kick, nod, kiss, tickle, stand, sit, crawl, sleep.

Nicholas knows animals and their sounds: cat, dog, donkey, horse, pig, goat, sheep, cow, fish, frog.

These are not complete lists, just the words I can think of right now. There are more every day and I can't keep track!

Most days, Nicholas watches a couple of episodes of his Russian DVDS and looks at some flashcards for different objects/actions. He often uses some Russian words and others he uses almost exclusively (ie. won't say it in English, even though he can). We count in Russian almost as much as we count in English.

So if I don't talk about Russian much, it is just that what we do is so normal to us that I don't think to blog it! I think of Russian as his second native language, rather than his first foreign one.

Chinese Lessons

Today we had our first book-based Chinese lesson. I bought the I Love Chinese set of books from Better Chinese (click here for a UK stockist) and I think they are great!

There are 12 books, each on a different topic, covering everything from greetings to shapes to animals. Each book is 12 pages long with 8-12 different sentences (often using a repeating pattern and changing only one or two words). There is a cd with recorded audio for each book, too.

I have decided to try and have a Chinese 'lesson' every morning, reading a new book each week. We had our first one this morning and it was a big hit! We must have gone over the book half a dozen times - I kept having it handed back to me with demands for more! Even the first time through the book, Nikki was repeating ni how (hello) after me! I'm sure he will pick up loads from these books and am saving up for their 36-book set My First Chinese Words. As long as Nicholas is in love with Chinese, I am going to encourage it - I just hope that this love will last!


Here are some of the activites we are doing in tot school this week!

We are reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See and using the printables from the 1+1=1 Tot Pack: 2-piece puzzles, counting 1-10 and size-sequence bears. We also printed out their colouring pages (though I scaled them down to fit on one page) which you can see in the picture below.

Here you can see the animal colouring sheet that I put together - Nikki did a very good job of keeping the colours on the correct picture. When we coloured the duck, he only coloured the head  so I asked 'what about the duck's bottom?' - he found this hilarious and had to do extra colouring to make sure he coloured each 'bondom'.

We also had some more montessori-style lessons - we used a red straw to blow tiny red puffs across the table, placed purple puffs onto stands (they are the stoppers you are meant to use on medicine bottles when using a syringe - we had them in abundance from when he was tiny and they are perfect for balancing the little puffs on), played with orange pipe cleaners and a blue 'doll' (made from a square of scrap fabric with a stuffed 'head' in the middle) and had some sound shakers - rice, pasta and salt - in small plastic bottles. Nikki especially loved the sound jars.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Village Show

Today was our village show. The theme this year was Farm, which was great for Nikki. They had a mini-farm right by the entrance, we saw pigs (and piglets!), sheep, goats, a bull, buffalo, ducks, chickens, rabbits, horses... there was also a zoo-farm tent, with meercats, snakes and lizards. Nikki got to pet a corn snake and a bearded dragon lizard.

Despite the fact that he was tired, he had a lot of fun looking at animals, though he wasn't really paying attention to the working dog or faclonry displays...

1500 Book Challenge!

I have seen this challenge all over the internet - can you read 1500 different books to your toddler in 1 year? Well, we're up for the challenge! I have calculated that we will need to read 4-5 books each day to reach this target, which I hope shouldn't be too hard.

The only question is whether all 1500 books should be in English, or do Russian books also count?

About Early Reading

I am doing a wide variety of early reading activities with Nicholas. I plan to review the programs we are using in separate posts, but here is the general overview.

We have been using Little Reader from Brillkids for a couple of months now. It is designed to teach whole-word reading (i.e. memorizing each word separately) using fast flashing of the words and pictures. The most important thing about Little Reader for us is that Nikki loves it, and whether he is learning to read the words or not he is learning a lot of vocabulary!

We are also starting phonics (letter sounds). We use the Starfall website, as well as the animal alphabet phonics cards from our Threshold to Reading kit. We have watched the Leapfrog letter factory - it is too long to watch easily but we do like the letter sounds song, and use that with our letter flashcards.

The most important part of our early reading lessons is reading, reading, reading! We spend maybe 5 minutes a day on the other stuff, but none of that is important if you can't instill a love of reading and an appreciation for stories - the only way to do that is read lots of books!

Tot School

Since the summer holidays are over, it is time for us to get back into a more structured routine and welcome the start of Tot School!

The idea behind Tot School is to set aside a little time each day to do early learning activities with your toddler. It is not like proper school - Tot School is FUN, skill-focused play and should never be forced or un-fun or boring.

I really like the idea of doing this - especially as I can focus on a time for English, a time for Russian and focus our learning about the same topic in both languages. Each week will have a different 'theme' with lots of fun activities which will hopefully teach basic concepts (big-small, colours, counting etc.).

We are also doing READING lessons! I am very excited and so far Nikki is loving the alphabet. He had so much fun learning his animal sounds, I thought he would enjoy letter sounds, too!

I'll aim to post a selction of the activities we do each week. I have had fun planning our first topic - colours!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Big Boy Bed

This afternoon I finally got around to taking the bars off the cot and clearing Nikki's room of all the extra 'stuff' he liked to play with. Tonight will be his first night in his big boy bed!

As you can see, he was more interested in looking out the window than settling down, not that there is anything new there! I bought the dinosaur bedding in the January sales for a new-bed present, but had to do a bit of emergency sewing when I realised that the single bedding would not be the right size for the cotbed! I cut it down to fit the bed and cut our spare duvet in half to fill it. On the plus side, I now have fabric enough to make several cushions!

Unfortunately, I don't think staying up nearly an hour past bedtime has done any good. I was hoping that he would settle quicker if he was a little more tired, but he's gone into that over-tired state and has been complaining loudly for over half an hour now. Not the best start.

This is what Nikki thinks of getting into bed:

First Word!

We were learning our letters on Starfall today, and Nikki read the word boy! It wasn't the first time he's seen the lesson, but it was the only word that he pointed to and repeated out of lessons A-E!

Actually, it was the first word he has ever pointed to and named! I'm so proud of my little boy!

What colour is Mummy's nose?


Or at least that is what Nikki seems to think. This morning it was also red and white, but most of the time he decides to give an answer, it's green.

Counting in Chinese

I am trying to count with Nikki as much as possible throughout the day.

We have two number lines in his corner and I added a third, which goes from 1-20, above his toy shelves. We count up and down at least one of them every day, in English and Russian. Nikki loves the number lines, because I let him bang the wall! We tap the numbers as we say them, using whatever Nikki gives me (sometimes a xylophone beater, sometimes a miniature ladel).

We also count anything and everything whenever possible. Today while at the park I said something about counting, and Nikki banged against the wheel he was 'steering' saying 'ee, er' - he was counting in CHINESE!!! I am so proud and amazed, especially since his Chinese lessons haven't been about numbers for weeks now! He can count to two, which is two more than he has ever tried in Russian! (If he is interested enough to vocalise, he can count to four in English)

He then spent the rest of the day banging against the nearest wall/chair/sofa and counting 'one, two' in Chinese, and couldn't be encouraged to switch to English or Russian numbers at all! I shouldn't be surprised, his favourite thing is Chinese at the moment - he loves his Chinese lessons, and asks for them many times a day, but I only let him watch them 1-2 times for 5-10 minutes each. He is allowed his Chinese CD as much as he likes, though, and is so keen to listen that he figured out the CD player by himself!

I am quite excited, because Wink to Learn are offering a free DVD with orders over $40. They also have a discount code for 25%, 2011MOTHER&BABY but it expires either today or tomorrow.

I bought part of Nikki's Christmas present - their Animal Encyclopedia DVDs! He will love them, his two favourite things - Chinese and animals! I've been looking at them for ages, but couldn't really justify the price when he is still only half way through the discs we have. For £50 for 12 DVDs, with the next set of lessons (Speech and Drama) thrown in, I couldn't resist!

I have also ordered some actual books, which should arrive next week. I am so excited!