Friday, October 4, 2013

Growing Up

I haven't been posting so much lately as I am still adjusting to a having a full-time preschooler at home. I never seem to have more than 5 minutes to quickly check my emails, let alone time to plan and write blog posts, and spending time with Nikki will always come first.

I can't believe he is turning 4 in 10 days time! He is so grown up already! And all he is asking for is... a David Tennant Sonic Screwdriver and a Great Big Tardis Box. Yes, he's still Dr Who mad.

He does appreciate other things, though. I wanted to get a small teapot, since the one I have is massive, and so I asked Nikki what sort I should get. Orange, he said. Because I like orange.

I found a great 2-person tea set, with dainty cups, saucers, milk jug and sugar bowl to match the teapot in bright orange for less than the price of a new teapot on ebay, and Nikki loves it. Every day (often several times a day) he asks me if we can have tea. I am fairly sure he enjoys the process of serving tea for both of us more than the tea itself, since I allow him to pour the milk and tea all by himself.

I'll have to get a picture of him pouring the tea. There is only one teacup in the picture because orange teacups are, apparently, only for boys, and I have pretty pink flower ones that I must use. At least it decreases the chances of both getting broken if only one ever gets used...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sneaky Little Helper

After lunch today, when I was taking the dustpan full of breadcrumbs out to the bin, Nikki decided to help...

I'm not sure whether he cleaned more with his legs or the cloth, but I appreciate the thought, even if I had to re-clean the table once I pulled him off...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


When we came home, Nikki had a purple face and between our baskets were 2lbs of berries. The next day we made lots of lovely apple and blackberry jam. Yum.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bunny Hop Addition

Recently, Nikki has fallen for the game Snakes and Ladders in a big way. Except we have to use bunny counters and hop to each space, rather than the boring counters the game came with. This is a great opportunity for us to work on two aspects of Maths: recognizing the numbers on dice, and addition.

We use two dice to play, and for every turn Nikki must add the sum of the two dice to figure out how far each player can move. Since he is still in the early stages of learning addition (he understand the concept of "some" and "some more" type problems but has yet to figure out about counting on from any number other than 0) I came up with a cunning plan to get him adding all by himself:

I made a number line 0-12 for a third bunny. Nikki has to identify the number on the first die and hop the bunny along to that number on the line, then he identifies the second number and hops the bunny along that many more spaces and the space the bunny lands on is our answer.

Bunny needs to hop on three more spaces to find the answer...

Simple and effective, we are slowly learning all the addition variations possible from 1+1 to 6+6 and having a laugh at the same time!

Linking up to Montessori Mondays

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Perfect Toy Car

This is Nikki's absolute favourite toy car. In case you hadn't guessed - the protractor is his steering wheel.

He buckles himself in, picks up his wheel, turns the key (to start the engine: broooom broooooooom) and takes off the handbreak. He puts on indicators to turn around corners (making clicking sound effects) and occasionally stalls the engine and needs to re-start the car. When he reverses he makes a beeping noise (like the big lorries) and when he parks he puts on the handbreak, turns off the engine and undoes his seatbelt.

Unfortunately, he gets shy and embarrassed when I try to video it. I'm working on it!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Our Pre-Reception Class Curriculum

Since Nikki is going to be home with me all year, I thought it would be best to make some plans about what we are going to do. Curriculum is quite a strong word for what we will be doing, but 'vague plan with a couple of textbooks' just doesn't sound very professional!

There are four key subjects that I want to cover this year: Maths, English, Russian and Music. I have not made any proper plans for any other subjects, though we will certainly be covering other subjects in an informal way. I want to keep the formal stuff for the mornings and have afternoons free for outdoor play, arts and crafts etc.

So, here's my plan for now:


I want to re-start our work with Saxon. I don't know how I really feel about this book, since it goes so painfully slowly and Nikki already knows a lot of the material, but since we can do a lesson in 5 minutes I thought it would be a nice pain-free way of including Maths into our daily routine.

I also have a collection of Montessori materials, board games and other Maths-related activities and hope to play at least one of them every day.


Reading: we haven't really made any progress with reading lately. Reading Eggs got too difficult (not reading-wise, but in terms of computer and coordination skills) and so we didn't pay for a subscription and haven't had much luck progressing beyond CVC words. For this year, I have bought a new book, designed for early readers, called The Reading Lesson. I am impressed with the format (despite American spelling) and it promises a second grade reading level in 20 lessons. The lessons should take around 5-10 minutes and be covered in 1-2 weeks each. So we might even finish it this year if Nikki can get over his fear of reading sentences!

Writing: We have our amazing writing course Write from the Start. I am completely in love with this program because it is completely focused on fine motor control in a fun way. The worksheets take literally a couple of minutes - I swear he takes longer choosing his pen colour than actually doing the work! We will practice letter forms separately (jumping straight into cursive) and I hope to get to the point of writing words this year, too!

Story time: The most time-consuming part of our Language curriculum! I am currently putting together theme packs of 5 books to do a Five in a Row type reading program. The plan is, simply, that I will read the same five books every day for a week and we will talk about the books and find more themes and deeper understanding over the course of the week. I will probably use these books to base our arts and crafts and science experiments on, too.


Nikki will be going to Russian school again this year. I also plan to make Russian lessons a part of our daily routine.

Reading and Writing: Use a combination of his school reading textbook and games to learn the letter sound and forms. I want to use last year's textbooks for daily Russian practice. His class is progressing to multi-syllable words this year, which means he might actually be reading fairly well in two languages by the end of the year! (Russian is much easier for learning to read because you just learn 33 letters - no funny rules or letter pairs making completely different sounds, there are only a very few exceptions)

Comprehension: Again, use games and his school language textbook to revise and get the topics into his active vocabulary.

Story time: Same as for English, except the goal is more to encourage understanding and narration than discussing themes, since someone is reluctant to actually speak in Russian.


This is our final set subject. Nikki is so musical that I really want to make it a daily lesson. We have our Little Musician lessons for theory and Soft Mozart for learning the piano. I have no goals other than to keep him loving music and getting familiar with the sounds of notes and instruments, and maybe learn a couple of musical terms.

Nikki is reluctant with piano lessons - he likes to play as if he's in a band, dancing to the music and pretending to play a tune. Very occasionally I can stop him for about 30 seconds of practicing "proper" playing techniques (finger exercise or note-recognition games). The best I can hope is that he picks up a couple of bars of Jingle Bells in time for Christmas!

The End.

So there's my vague plan / curriculum for this September. My goal is to do lessons in Maths, Reading, Writing, Russian and Music for at least 5 minutes every day. That is maybe half an hour plus story time before lunch - not too much for a nearly-4 year-old, I think. Story time will probably need a maximum time limit to fit everything into the morning, though...

Thursday, August 1, 2013


 We have been growing our own potatoes this year. We planted seed potatoes in two grow bags and have harvested everything I could find from one of them. That gave us fresh, new potatoes for dinner every day for over a week.

I didn't dare take pictures while harvesting (Nikki + digging in soil to his elbows + camera = certain disaster!) but I did take a snap of the bowl we brought up one afternoon. We are also growing lettuce, but Nikki still insists that he doesn't "eat leaves" and asks impatiently whether the one carrot that actually started growing is big enough to pick yet...

Nikki actually got the first potatoes we harvested all for himself and insisted I take a picture for him. Don't they look yummy!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Little Boy Lost!

I just popped into Nikki's bedroom to check on him and found his bed empty. I could hear him sleeping, but the bed was most definitely empty.

I checked the tent under his bed. Train set - check. Little boy - no sign.

Guess where I found him...

Sound asleep on the windowsill!

Of course, by the time I found the camera and turned on the hall lights to take the picture, he'd woken up a bit and was most annoyed by the flash.

If I had realised that all he needed was a couple of bars across the bottom of the window, I could have saved a fortune on that new bed!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Heat

We've been suffering through this infernal heat wave for weeks and I just haven't been up to much of anything, so despite having several posts planned this blog has been ignored because it has been too hot to bother.

Sorry about that.

Nikki and I have been struggling with a temper-clash, too. He seems to have inherited my quick temper and with the combination of EVERYTHING stopping for the summer (nursery, playgroups, Sunday school...) and staying in out of the sun as much as possible (I really really can't cope with the heat and I burn within minutes - literally!) we have had to re-learn how to get along with one another. Slow progress, but essential for the new school year as I have taken the plunge and not registered Nikki with a preschool for September. I like to think of it as a homeschooling trial - if I am still sane when school registration opens in November, my dream of homeschooling might become a reality...

In the meantime, here is some of the mischief Nikki has been up to this month:

Felt-tip Nail Varnish

Chilling in the sun on Grandad's Lawnmower

Mischief with his favourite cousin

Too Many DVDs!!!

A New Space Bed!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Little Artist

Nicholas has suddenly started drawing. Until a couple of weeks ago, his idea of drawing was take a pen(cil) and scribble indiscriminately. Now he is doing proper pictures!

I may have started it by helping him draw his dad and granddad on their Father's day cards by telling him to start with a circle for the head... what about adding arms/legs etc. I only 'helped' by making his lines thicker and darker when he decided that he needed to cover them in orange paint and green glitter...

Granddad                    Daddy
He has since spent less time focused on "writing" and created the occasional work of art - even going so far as to name them!

This whiteboard masterpiece is titled "Surgery" though I am fairly sure he doesn't understand what a surgery is. It is rather Picasso-esque with the person-within-a-face (on the right). Unfortunately, whiteboards are notoriously hard to photograph, so please forgive the reflections.

Today was the biggest progress as far as I am concerned. Completely unprompted, Nikki drew a picture that is quite clearly themed, but also actually looks like what it is meant to be! It is still obviously a preschooler's artwork, but you can quite obviously make out both the man and the car in this picture. It is, I think, his first independent piece of non-abstract art.

If I knew how, I would change the brightness to make the pencil lines stand out better.

Now I feel the need to brush up on my own artistic skills - if I don't progress beyond stick men soon, Nikki will catch me up!

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Pirozhki are wonderful Russian buns with a sweet or savory filling. I planned to make two fillings, but Nikki insisted we make some cheese ones, too. Next time I think I'll use white flour as they are a little dry with wholewheat.

I didn't take pictures while we were cooking - Nicholas and sticky bread dough are not what I want anywhere near my camera! We used this recipe for the dough and the meat filling, but I also made a traditional cabbage-and-egg filling, which I made up from memory (I finely cut about a third of a small cabbage and two hard boiled eggs and mixed them together).

Nikki was in charge of the food processor while we were preparing our fillings - this worked well enough, even if the cabbage was a bit too finely chopped. Unfortunately, he then half-pureed the onions, but I think they still did the job...

Friday, May 17, 2013


This has got to be one of the best buy toys ever! It is a full-size foam skeleton puzzle and though it was not cheap, we play with it many times each day. Nikki has learned the names of all the major parts of the skeleton and loves to tell me which parts attach to which.

Now, he likes me to 'help' put "Little Nikki" together. By help, I mean he will shout out to me "Mummy, what comes next?" when I am not paying attention and while I turn and check what piece he wants me to help him find, he shouts the answer:


Colouring with Precision

I am really impressed with how much Nikki's accuracy in colouring has developed the last couple of months. He has never really shown an interest in colouring - he loves to write - but recently this has changed.

When he wants to, he can colour so beautifully...

And when he doesn't, he perfects his toddler-scribble!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tantrums Over Lessons

"Mummy, I NEED my lessons NOW!!!"

Not your usual lesson-related tantrums, I expect!

His favourite activities are cutting and sticking:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Using our Moveable Alphabet

I put a missing-letter CVC word worksheet in our lesson packets but the text is small and so I had to write in the missing letters for him to be able to read the word - what a perfect point to introduce using our newly-boxed moveable alphabet!

Nikki and I worked through the sheet together, and I still filled in the missing letters for him, but then he got the fun job of finding the letters and making the word all by himself!

He liked to trace the letters with his fingers first, practicing - and explaining out loud - how to write them:

His current phrase of choice is "I really love..." and guess what - he really loved his new box of letters!

Linking up to Montessori Mondays

Reading Eggs Review

We have just finished a 65 day trial of the Reading Eggs program and so I thought I'd write up a little review for you.

We extended the 14 day trial using two codes (UKB24MBT and AU567) I found on the brillkids forum. It is only possible to add two codes to any one account, so this is about the maximum free time you can get, but I thought it worked out as a perfect trial run for us.

To start with, Nikki loved reading eggs. There is a placement test at the beginning so you don't have to repeat stuff you already know, but because Nikki didn't know the sight words we started right at the beginning. This wasn't too bad, he got a lot of phonics review and the letter sounds games were easy for him, but the phonics moves slowly so even at lesson 30 there was nothing new being introduced to someone who knows all the basic letter sounds. 

That said, Mr I-won't-read-sight-words needed to start at the beginning for precisely that reason. The sight word games worked wonders and he began to read simple sentences. Not just sound out CVC words, but actually read. I was very impressed.

The games are great fun and brilliant for encouraging reluctant readers, but we did have some problems. At first, maybe 2 or 3 games in any one lesson would require computer skills Nikki just doesn't have - like catching moving objects on the screen with the mouse. As we used the program his skills improved, but the difficulty of the games did as well. This is a program designed for children at least 2 years older than Nikki and he couldn't keep up.

For example, one game has you catching moving fish with a word written on them, reading the word and  putting the fish into the right box. The text is probably a font size 12 or 14 to fit on the little fish. Probably not too hard for a six year old, but Nikki needed me to do most of it for him.

Also, the text in the reading books at the end of each lesson is quite small and you can't adjust the size of the book on the screen to make the text bigger. This really intimidated Nikki, even when the sentences were 3 words long and he had easily read the same sentences in much bigger font in a previous game.

The end-of-level test after every 10 lessons had even tinier fonts (maybe 10 or 12pt)  and Nikki just refused to do them and guessed the answers. I had to really help him through the test when I knew he was able to progress because he couldn't cope with small fonts.

We got up to lesson 32 and Nikki's reading really progressed, but I could already see the sharp increase in difficulty of both reading and computer skills and I could tell that we had maybe a month before it got too hard and he lost interest altogether. He was already dreading the end-of-lesson book.I have decided not to pay for the program at the moment. This is not because it is bad - I actually really liked it and may well invest in a year or so when his computer skills are a bit better, if he still needs the lessons.

For now, I think I have found another program that I like... 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Great Big Tardis Box

"Mummy, when is the postman going to bring my Great Big Tardis Box?"

False Perspective with a toy Tardis

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Wanted You To Be Poorly!

"Mummy, are you poorly?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Oh. I wanted you to be poorly because then I can watch lots of DVDs."

Nothing gets past them, does it!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bedtime Potty Training

Nikki has been dry in the days for around 15 months now, and I have long been finding excuses for putting off the night-training because, really why would I want 3am bedding changes? I have been feeling worse because my nephew has been doing really well and he is the younger cousin (though they were actually due on the same day).

Last week, my sister bought her son a goldfish as reward for 2 months of dry nights. She managed where hours of discussion and feeble bribery had failed - Nikki is now a big boy and doesn't wear nappies at night, because he really, really wants a fish too!

Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell his bladder.

He is getting better. The week started with around 3 accidents each night and this morning it was 6am before he woke me up to ask where his dry pajama bottoms were. He doesn't always wake instantly when wet, so I have no idea how long he is really lasting, but at least I am not getting woken repeatedly - that's progress, right?

So now there is a fish tank on the stairs waiting to find a permanent home, and the promise of a tank decoration to celebrate his first dry night. Maybe one day there will be a fish, too, but I won't hold my breath!

Russian School!

As I alluded to in my previous post, Nikki has started Russian school!

We finally found a school locally (all previous searching had found a 1.5 hour train into London was as near as we could get) and the only downside is that it clashes with the drama school I was going to enter him into this term. I'll have to book him in for private lessons with Auntie V instead!

Nikki has classes from 10 til 1 and I get to wander around the nearby shopping center without a bored preschooler - bliss! He has lessons in Reading, Writing, Russian Conversation, Music and Art in a class of six 3-5 year olds. We have finished our 3-week trial and today we are signing up for the rest of the term. So far his teacher has been really impressed at his reading ability - even though we have only been learning to read in English, the ideas of letters having sounds and blending sounds to make words give him a good foundation!

He has been a bit shy starting out, despite bubbling over with excitement the whole way there, but last week he finally started speaking unprompted and so I expect he will now start showing off what he knows and really getting confident in communicating in Russian.

At the moment, he understands spoken questions and commands but struggles to respond with more than one or two words. Or perhaps it is more like refuses to put in the effort of speaking more than a couple of phrases when he knows full well that I understand him if he replies in English. Hopefully having regular exposure to a completely Russian environment, with Russian speaking teacher and friends, his speaking skills will develop to the point that we can have Russian conversations at home without him whining "Speak in English!" at me all the time!

He also gets HOMEWORK so we can start getting used to studying Russian in a more structured way - in a few weeks I will want to set up some entirely Russian lesson packs to work through. Is it wrong that I am so excited?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lesson Packets

We haven't done much structured learning so far this year. Between perpetual colds, three chest infections and a bout of the 'terrible threes' neither of us has been much in the mood for sitting down learning.

Since starting Russian School, though, Nikki has once more started asking me for lessons. As we haven't done much for a while and I am only now getting over a generously donated cough/cold bug, I didn't want to put too much energy into planning work that he might decide is 'boring' very quickly!

So, I printed out some alphabet/phonics, shapes and maths worksheets from 1+1=1 and filled 26 plastic wallets with them. I then ripped up a couple of colours/shapes/counting workbooks that I have been meaning to use with Nikki for months and stuck a page or two in each wallet. When he asks me for a lesson, I just empty the next wallet and we work through them.

This method is working out so well for us right now! The worksheets are easily finished in 1-2 minutes each and is mostly revision work but it is getting us back into the habit of sit-down work which is great.

Below is an example of one worksheet we have finished - he did it all perfectly but because drawing circles is so fun we had to circle everything else in another colour. He is making a real effort to trace the letters and is really eager to learn, something that I have really missed this winter!

Making Breakfast More Interesting...

Sitting on top of the sofa with his cheerios - the milk now has to be separate (in a cup with a straw on the table!) because otherwise the cereal won't stay 'crusty'. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Making Materials: Moveable Alphabet Storage

I bought a cheap set of plastic letters ages ago (I just can't justify the expense for the beautiful wooden Montessori ones) and they have been stuck in a box because I just couldn't figure out how to store them in a way that all the letters would be separate and visible.

So, today I googled and came up with a rather obvious idea using a craft supplies box - just perfect because know that I have a spare one!

Obviously, it was nowhere to be found now that I had a purpose for it. However, whilst searching for it I came across an old display box of watercolour paints that was just the right size. The paints were moved from the plastic holder into our arts and crafts box and the plastic was ripped out to leave an empty box.

To make the dividers, I cut up some card runners to fit the length and width of the box and cut notches to slip them together.
The final grid fits fairly well into the box and keeps the letters separated - so long as the box is kept nice and level. I don't expect the letters will ever look this neatly arranged again, though!

And yes, I measured the spaces to be equal and that means that the m and w letters don't fit in horizontally, so they have to be put in sideways. It was far easier to put a couple of letters in wonky than fiddle about re-sizing the grid to make them fit!

Saturday, April 27, 2013


It has been a very busy Easter-Birthday-Daddy Visiting-Dr Who obsessed couple of months and although I've been taking lots of pictures with the intent of an update, I just haven't gotten round to the process of uploading and posting.

Hopefully, this means that the next week or two should have a glut of posts because I have no intention of abandoning this blog.

It might have to wait for tomorrow, though - I am late with Nikki's dinner...

Oh dear - I left it ages again! Tomorrow turned into nearly 2 weeks! I must try harder!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hot Cross Buns

Typically, I say he won't play nicely for a video and he does this...

Soft Mozart

Music is Nikki's big love. He still periodically asks me for a violin (the other day he wanted a trombone, too) but I have decided that he will not be starting any other instruments until he is 5 or 6. This is partly because there is no Suzuki teacher (or anyone else who would take on a three year old) locally and partly that the only instrument I feel even vaguely able to teach him is the piano - despite never learning it myself, there are loads of videos in the SM forum that let me figure out the correct fingers to use before I do a song with Nikki.

We are getting back into a rhythm with our Soft Mozart lessons again. It has taken a while to get back into it since all learning went out out of the window before Christmas, but he is now once more in love with his keyboard.

He has developed a general idea of which notes are where on the keyboard, and though he is still very dependent on the key guide, he looks at the right note almost every time. He often sings along, too. His favourite is definitely the Guess Key game, which familiarizes him with the note sounds and where to find the keys. He would play all afternoon if I let him.

We are now just starting Gentle Piano. This is the core program of the SM software, but Nikki hasn't really wanted to do it before. I think it is because there is less fun animation and a slower, specific pace that he isn't too keen on following. When playing a tune in Gentle Piano, you have to keep a hold of a note until the note moves up the screen (which, I guess, teaches note duration without adding the confusion of different note shapes for the absolute beginners) but Nikki is impatient and gets frustrated if he presses the right note but it doesn't move on because he didn't hold the note long enough. So we took a long break from the Gentle Piano and let him keep practising the notes and having fun, rather than turn piano practice into some form of torture.

So, back to the present, Nikki is now willing to at least try a song a few times on the Gentle Piano game. He plays the right hand of Hot Cross Buns with one finger very well and is trying very hard to figure out how to use the three fingers he is supposed to but they don't always listen to him.

He enjoys ordering his do-re-mi cards and singing along to the Note Alphabet song and I really should actually print off the Kingdom of Tune book to read with him (bad Mummy!).

Hopefully now that we're back in regular practice, we'll finally see some impressive progress with his Piano-playing abilities. I might even get it on video!

Chest Infection

We are now suffering through our second chest infection in three weeks, so sorry for the lack of posts but it is really hard to type anything with a poorly toddler curled up in your lap and I have had to spend my evenings catching up on all the daytime chores that I couldn't do with a toddler in my lap so no time for blogging...

I do have lots of photos and things to say as soon as I get more than five minutes' peace so stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bread Pudding

Nicholas doesn't like bread crusts. In less than two weeks, I collected over 9oz of bread crusts, simply by removing the edge of Nikki's sandwiches and toast, rather than have him waste them on the plate. There is only one thing worth collecting bread crusts for - bread pudding!

I really don't like wasting food, so I suspect making bread pudding will be something of a constant while Nikki remains crust-phobic. Fortunately, it is something all my family enjoys, so I won't be having to eat mountains of bread pudding by myself!

I used a different recipe this time, and I probably wouldn't use it again with Nikki because it calls for soaking the bread before "squeezing out the excess water". Have you ever tried squeezing water from soggy bread - it doesn't work. Especially if you are three! My mum said I should have put the mix into a muslin before squeezing, but I think it will be easier to just use my old no-soak recipe in the future!

Nicholas enjoyed squeezing the bread, though! 

He also helped me measure the ingredients (by reading the numbers on my scales - I cook in pounds and ounces, which makes it really easy for him as they are almost always single-digit whole numbers). Once we mixed all the ingredients together he carefully smoothed over the top.

He also insisted in putting it in the oven himself (as he made it). Unfortunately the dish was too heavy for him so he had to settle for pushing it deeper into the oven and closing the oven door.

The end result looked (and tasted) great, but since Nikki decided to invite Grandma over for afternoon tea to taste-test his masterpiece, I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished pudding!