Toddler fun at the skate park – #CountryKids

Just a quick post from me this week about our outdoor adventures. I’m still not finding loads of time to blog in amongst the boys not napping consistently and trying to sort out house things plus finding out about the local area of where we will (hopefully, if the sale goes through) live. But I had to share this outing that we had to the local park one bright and crisp morning this week. We’ve been here a lot, as it is rather handily just a short walk from Granny and Grandad’s house, and is perfect for bike riding.

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One part that we haven’t been in for a while is the skate park. As there was nobody else there, Andrew was keen to go in. At first I thought he wanted to ride his bike in there, and so I was hesitant to agree to this. But then he told me that he wanted to play with his ball in there, which sounded like a much safer idea! So we went in, and he absolutely loved it. I couldn’t believe how much fun he had with some concrete ramps and a small yellow ball. This free form of entertainment kept him busy for ages – placing the ball near the top of a ramp, watching it roll down and up the opposite side, and running after it – again and again and again! His giggles were amazing, he clearly enjoyed himself a lot.

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We did have to watch out for a few icy patches, but we just kept to the ramps that we could see had been in the sun longer and therefore the ice on them had melted. It was me who had to drag him away, because we needed to get home for when a work man was coming to fix a window, but we will definitely be back for some more toddler-suitable fun in a place that generally lies empty when all the big skateboarding and bmx-ing kids are at school (though I’m sure Andrew will love to do that himself one day, if his current love of bike riding is anything to go by).

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I also can’t forget to share a couple of pictures from elsewhere in the park that morning. First up is the ‘sand windmill’ that he is fascinated by – the sand was particularly hard and crunchy with the ice, so a great sensory experience for him as he picked some up to make the wheel go round and round (Joel was too tired to be out with him here, so was snuggled in the sling on my back).

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And second is the ‘numbers snail’ that he likes to walk around, starting at number 1 and counting up as he goes around the spiral up to 25. So being outdoors can be just as educational as staying at home with books and toys (though of course we like doing that too once we’re home). I love the shadows in this picture too – little Andrew, tall Mummy, and Joel’s head peaking over my shoulder 🙂

Plain pants – wot so funee?

Last week was rather crazy with various things, including a day trip to Birmingham on Tuesday, so I didn’t get around to writing a funee post. So here is a round up of the last two weeks of toddlerisms in our house.

In some ways I was a bit disappointed by the ‘Great Storm of 2013’ that the media were bigging up – it was just a bout of rain and a bit of wind where we are. But it did leave some rather spectacular puddles to splash in the following day! Andrew’s description of these bodies of water was thus: “These puddles are a bit lakey!” Fair enough, that’s actually a very good description in my opinion. And with all the wind, he was very impressed to see that “the sky is moving, Mummy, the sky is moving!!” That’ll be the clouds Andrew, but yes it does look like the sky is moving.

A very blustery day visiting Birmingham University - the sky was really moving fast above the clock tower ;)
A very blustery day visiting Birmingham University – the sky was really moving fast above the clock tower 😉

He’s definitely caught on to the praise that we give him for doing certain things – going to the toilet, eating his vegetables, reading letters etc. Now he’s starting to give himself praise where he deems it due. For example, the other day we started playing football outside and before I’d said anything, he came out with: “I’m very good at playing football, I’m very good at kicking balls!” No modesty there then, maybe this means he’s bound to become a professional footballer?! Although he’s quite into basketball too. One day he and Daddy were both in the bathroom and Andrew asked if Daddy could go and get him a ball, because: “look, it’s a basketball net!” – referring to the towel hoop by the sink that he’d pulled up so it was horizontal to the wall like a basketball net. Football, basketball – either way he certainly hasn’t got any of his love of sport from his parents (I’m only any good at swimming, and Tom isn’t into competitive sports at all).

Here’s a bit of an odd funee. I ask Andrew if he’s OK quite a bit – if he’s bumped into something, if he’s looking confused or tired, or for many other reasons. Once this week when Daddy asked him if he was OK, he replied: “I’m opaque!” We presume he doesn’t actually know this word, so it was probably just a sound confusion – getting some consonants muddled around the correct vowels. But it did cause Daddy to wonder!

Another funee that didn’t happen with me, but that I enjoyed hearing Granny recount to me, was the confusion of the pants. Granny had bought Andrew a new pack of pants. Inside there were some with dinosaurs on, some with stripes on, and some plain. Due to a few drips after a big boy’s standing up wee (and toddler OCD which insists that pants must be completely dry before pulling them up to one’s skin), he needed a clean pair at one point when Granny and other family were visiting at the weekend for Joel’s birthday. Granny asked him if he wanted dinosaur pants, stripy pants, or plain pants. His reply: “plain pants”. But when Granny went to put them on he looked puzzled. “But where’s the aeroplane?” Ah, that would be PLANE pants then!

Of course, no self-respecting funee post would be complete without the mention of a fire alarm (the much mentioned red object that all started with this incident). On Sunday evening we were watching a home display of fireworks from our flat that was taking place in a garden over the road from us. This is the first year that Andrew has really taken much notice of fireworks, and after the initial uncertainty of whizzing noises, he was keen to watch them and all their lovely colours and patterns. The rockets were particularly impressive, and he tried to imitate the whoosh and bang that they made. After it was all over, he turned from the window and looked back into the room: “We don’t have any fireworks, we just have a fire alarm!” Yes Andrew, any excuse to mention a fire alarm!!


Wot So Funee?


The big green in the big smoke – #CountryKids

Last weekend we went down to London to meet my cousin (that’s the boys first cousin once removed – we’ve looked it up!) and his wife who had just flown in from Australia. We drove to my brother and family’s flat in West London, where Granny and Grandad had also stayed the night, parked there, had a cuppa and used my niece’s darkened quiet bedroom to feed Joel in as he really doesn’t want to miss out on excitement so won’t feed properly when we’re out.

Lovely scenery on the drive down, and waiting for the bus in London
Lovely scenery on the drive down, and waiting for the bus in London

Then we all headed out to Richmond. There were no trains running on the overground line that we needed due to engineering works. So a rail replacement bus it was. Fortunately Andrew loves any form of transport, so a bus was almost as exciting as a train. After crawling through some pretty heavy Sunday traffic, we arrived at Richmond station.

Running around on Richmond Green, with yellow bouncy ball
Running around on Richmond Green, with yellow bouncy ball

There was about half an hour before our Aussie family would arrive, so we walked up the high street and turned down a side road that led to Richmond Green. Andrew was keen to get his bouncy ball out, the one he got as a souvenir from Birdland two weeks previously, and throw/kick it whilst running around, including towards some pigeons who (funnily enough) ran away at this, much to Andrew’s surprise. His uncle and aunt also had a kick about of his small football. As we were on this big green, I found it amazing to think that we were in London – just behind a row of buildings was the busy high street with buses, cars and trains going by, and yet we had a lovely green space to run around on away from the hustle and bustle.

Walking by the Thames and feeding the geese/pigeons (and Joel eating lunch)
Walking by the Thames and feeding the geese/pigeons (and Joel eating lunch)

As time got on, we headed back to the station to meet the visitors, and then we all crossed the road to have lunch at an Italian restaurant. Once we’d enjoyed a yummy meal, we had a leisurely walk back along the high street and back across the green, where Andrew insisted, quite rightly, on getting his bouncy ball out again, and then we carried on down to the river. It was such a beautiful day, so we walked along the river for a while. Andrew found a wall to walk on that separated the path from a grassy bank on our left (the river was to our right.

He was still insistent that he needed his ball, even though we tried on several occasions to suggest that we put it away now so it didn’t roll into the river. And as we had feared, the bouncy ball that was so new did meet a very watery end that day and must now be residing at the bottom of the Thames! He also invented a new game called run around the tree until you’re dizzy – the last bit of it is in the video, along with Granny asking where his ball is and me and him saying it’s in his hand, so this was before the fatal lob Thames-ward.

After a coffee/cold drink stop in a riverside cafe, where Joel also had a small attempt at feeding, we headed back to the station to wave the Aussies on their way back to their London stop over flat, and then we caught the bus back to our car and drove home – two very tired boys fell asleep almost straight away.

Homeward bound
Homeward bound

 Linking up with #CountryKids over at Coombe Mill’s blog again today 🙂

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The ball and the Abbey – #CountryKids

I love the fact that we live only 10 minutes drive from our local National Trust property, Anglesey Abbey. The Abbey is actually an old house (not a church as you might expect) set in a lovely large area of land with gardens, lawns, fields and woodland, perfect for little legs to run around in and let off steam. There is also a spacious cafe with yummy food and a toddler toy table which keeps Andrew amused for hours!

Quite often we meet friends up there, and it’s a popular meeting place in the week for mums with young children, especially NCT groups and the like. Sometimes I decide at the last minute to head there on my own with the boys when we have an hour or so in the afternoon after Andrew’s nap time with nothing particular planned and no errands to run. This is what happened earlier in the week.AA Collage 1

Andrew insisted that he take his new foam football that Granny and Grandad kindly gave him in a damage limitation effort with respect to Joel, windows and other breakable objects. Even though I said he could take an outdoor ball, he wanted to take this soft one – I’m not one to argue too much with a determined toddler when the matter isn’t a serious one.

He had a lot of fun kicking it up the paths, over the fields, along the lawns, and under the trees (avoiding the beautiful bluebells hiding under there). As we reached the lawn by the house, where we’ve seen croquet being played a few times so I knew it was alright to have a ball on, I was quite glad that it was the soft ball after all, as Andrew was keen to kick it and we seemed to be so near the old house with its delicate windows (not that he can kick it high yet, but you never know when he might learn!)AA Collage 2

Just around the corner from the house we walked into a bit of garden with a high hedge around it because Andrew spotted a few steps that he wanted to jump up and then run down the grass slope next to them. This little game lasted a surprisingly long time. There were also some urns on plinths in this bit of garden, and Andrew said hello face to face with the lady carved into the side of one!

The whole area of land around the property is full of little bits of hedged off garden, perfect for a game of hide and seek. Over the several years that we’ve been visiting the place, we’ve often discovered hidden statues as we walk through the various gardens – even having been umpteen times, we’re still to this day finding new bits of garden with plants and works of art in them, as the land is so extensive and varied.

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We have been into the house before, which is fascinating, particularly an intricate clock that chimes spectacularly every hour, but that was back in our pre-kids life. One day we’ll take the boys in, but they’re still too young to appreciate it, even with the kids activity sheets. In any case, it closes earlier than the time we usually make it up there in an afternoon, which was the case this time too.

The weather was fairly kind to us. It started off overcast and quite chilly, but Andrew was warm enough running around with his bright yellow fisherman’s coat on. It did start to rain a couple of times, but didn’t come to much, and we’re used to being out in worse than that. Joel spent the whole time snuggled up warm and dry asleep in the buggy.

As the afternoon drew closer to closing time, we headed back to the car through a short woodland walk. There was no time for a refuelling stop in the cafe today, and besides, it wouldn’t be long until dinnertime anyway, once we had crawled back into Cambridge on an unusually busy road (it’s not normally busy going into town during rush hour, but I think there had been some incident on the modern road wonder that is the A14 so cars were being diverted!) Despite the journey, we had a fun afternoon and I’m sure it won’t be too long until we pop back again.

Linking up with the lovely #CountryKids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog again 🙂

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Let the talking begin!

For over a month now, Andrew has been saying his very first words. According to the NHS ‘Birth to Five’ book, which gives average ages that children tend to reach milestones of development, this is at the later end of average for starting to talk. But as Andrew was an early walker (just before his 1st birthday), I wasn’t expecting that he would talk particularly early, because it’s often the case that babies and toddlers are early at gaining some skills and later at gaining others compared to their typically-developing peers. It’s like their brains seem to concentrate on one big thing to the detriment of other big things, until the first thing is sorted and then other things get a look in. I’ll give you a run through of his first words, and add some notes to each of them, sometimes referring to ‘techie’ terms – ones that I’ve learned through studying phonetics/linguistics – but hopefully explaining them well enough in everyday words too.

His first word was ‘bye-bye’, which he says something more like ‘ba-ba’, with a short ‘a’ instead of the double vowel (or ‘diphthong’ in techie speak) that I and other British English speaking adults use. His vowel here is slowly becoming more like mine compared to when he first said the word. This is a very useful word that gets used every morning when he waves to Daddy and/or me as we go to work, plus on other occasions like when we leave a group.

His second recognisable word was ‘ball’, which he says something more like ‘buh’, with no ‘l’ and a short vowel instead of the long vowel that adults use. But it clearly refers to ‘ball’, one of his favourite toys to play with wherever he is (including in the park when older kids are trying to have a game of football…) – I can tell because he consistently points to balls and says ‘buh’. He generally likes the sound ‘b’, as his ‘buh’ has now extended to also mean ‘balloon’ (which to be fair is pretty similar to a ball in shape) and ‘bird’. Again he will consistently point to these things and say ‘buh’, as well as using the sign (as in sign language) when he points to bird.

A ball or 'buh' - one of Andrew's favourite toys to play with, even if it's not his! (This one is his though)

The next few words came about the same time; I can’t really say in which particular order. The word he now says the most on a daily basis must be ‘car’, which he says with a consonant produced slightly further back in the mouth than adults do – what I would call a ‘uvular plosive’ (instead of a ‘velar plosive’), so it sounds a bit like the ‘guttural’ sounds we associate with French ‘r’ sounds or Swiss German or Arabic. Over time this will become more English-sounding, and in the meantime I think it’s great that he can naturally use sounds that native English-speaking adults find hard to produce because they don’t use them in English. He points and says the word ‘car’ constantly as we walk anywhere next to roads, as he plays with his toy garage, and as we read books featuring cars. In fact he says car for pretty much any vehicle with wheels! Buses, lorries, vans – all cars in Andrew’s world. Bikes or motorbikes don’t seem to get this treatment, but he doesn’t consistently come out with anything else for these. Of course I encourage him when he says ‘car’, and then I go on to specify what it is if it’s not actually a car. One day he’ll figure this all out, but for now this ‘overextension’ (as is the techie term) is a normal part of language development. The classic example is when children use the word ‘dog’ to mean any four-legged, furry animal. This phenomenon happens across languages, not just in English, so it seems to be a general part of language acquisition, though researchers haven’t quite figured out exactly why it happens. It does show, however, that children initially categorise objects rather than simply label them, and then work towards being more specific in their initial categories.

Our car, which he points out every time we leave the flat.

Another word that he uses a lot is ‘shoes’. He says this as something like ‘shuhz’, so you hear mainly the two consonant ‘sh’ and ‘z’ sounds (what I would call ‘fricatives’) with a very short kind of non-descript vowel in the middle (a high central vowel that adults don’t use in English). This word is very useful for him, because he uses ‘shoes’ as a signal to let us know that he wants to go out – he brings them to us, repeating the word ‘shoes’ several times until we put them on, and then goes and stands by the front door to show that he wants to go out. Of course this isn’t always appropriate (like when I’m still in my pyjamas having got him sorted but not myself!), but he does love putting his shoes on and going out. In fact he also likes putting our shoes on and attempting to walk around constantly repeating the word ‘shoes’…. not always successfully in the case of my 2-inch-heeled mules!

Two little but powerful words he likes to use are ‘yeah’ and ‘no’. He seems to use ‘yeah’ for everything from everyday questions like ‘shall we get you dressed?’ (not his favourite activity) to questions about things he’s really excited about, like’ would you like to go to the park?’. Both his ‘yeah’ and his ‘no’ are now very adult-like, though ‘no’ started of as something more like ‘doh’, in which the vowel was pretty accurate, but the consonant wasn’t very nasal. I knew he meant ‘no’ though, because it was always accompanied by a shake of the head and usually happened just after I’ve said no to him!

One of his most recent additions was flower – he came out with this at my cousin’s wedding after several people were pointing the pretty flowers out to him, and ever since he’s been able to point them out himself. His version doesn’t sound exactly like flower, it’s more like ‘wa-wa’, but it’s obvious that this is what he means as he points to one.

Some lovely flowers or 'wa-wa' that I got for my birthday from my work friends. Andrew points this out when he's sat at the table eating lunch or tea and they are at the other end of the table 🙂

Although animal sounds aren’t technically words, I would like to quickly mention that his favourite animals to point out are ‘cow’, ‘dog’ and ‘duck’ – which he calls ‘moo’ (somewhere between ‘moo’ and ‘boo’ actually), ‘urh urh’ (trying to say ‘woof woof’ but actually sounding more like a real bark than ‘woof’!) and ‘quack’ (more like ‘kack’). His productions of cow and duck (‘moo/boo’ and ‘kack’) are always accompanied by the sign language for each, which interestingly are also quite approximate compared to those that I make with my hands. I must write a post specifically on babysigning one day (I keep saying that and never get around to it….) For some reason he seems less bothered about making the dog sign with his bark. Although he doesn’t seem to overextend the word dog (as in the example I gave above), he does seem to overextend the word ‘moo’ – generally it refers to cows (we see them quite often on the fields near us), but he’s also used it for horse (which I think he’s just about picking up the sign for now, so using ‘moo’ less often) and elephant! So it seems it can apply to any big mammal.

Ducks or 'kack, kack' swimming under the bridge where we walk across the river a few times a week to go to various groups.

I’m not quite sure why, but he often makes a sound like ‘ts’ when pointing at things that he can’t yet say the word for. As he points, I of course say the word of the object he’s pointing at, and one day he’ll have heard it enough times and be able to produce the right sounds to say it himself. Generally he likes making sounds like ‘sh’ and ‘ssss’ (what I’d call ‘fricatives’ in techie speak) all over the place, when I can’t always tell if there’s something specific he’s trying to refer to.

For anyone who remembers me writing about trilingual adventures before, here’s an update on where I’m at with introducing French and German as well as English. I’m still saying three words (one in each language) to him as we sit and read through books or point out things around the house or when we’re out and about. More recently I’ve decided to have two ‘French’ days and two ‘German’ days a week when I’m with him all day (I’m at work for the other 2.5 days), when I speak the relevant language to him when it’s just the two of us. So today is a ‘German’ day, and as we’ve walked to the shops and to groups, I’ve talked to him in German, pointing out things along the way, or making general small talk (as you do, talking to your toddler who can’t talk back, much!) Lunch was ‘Mittagessen’ and I’ve changed his ‘Windel’ instead of nappy etc. So far he’s only producing English words (or words that sound like English words). BUT, he clearly understands a lot in French and German, given how he reacts when I talk to him in either language. For example, when I ask him ‘Wo ist das Auto?’ or ‘Ou est-elle, la voiture?’ (‘Where’s the car?’), he’ll point and say ‘car’ in answer to my question. Amazing! He does this with various things, not just cars. It’s so fascinating to see the fact that he’s picking up more than one language without even thinking about it.

This leads on to an interesting point about language acquisition: the fact that he can understand a lot more (in English) than he can currently say. I’m finding that I can say some quite complicated sentences, for example give him instructions to do something like bring me his ball or put his sun hat back on, and he consistently does what I ask of him. If Tom and I are talking between us, not directly with him, and we happen to mention in passing something that he recognises, he’ll react to the word he’s heard in our speech, for example if we mentioned a dog, he’ll suddenly woof, even though we weren’t really aware he was listening to us. This has made me realise that I have to be careful now what I say. I hope that in general what I say is suitable for a toddler to hear and make sense of, but we all have days when we react and say something we wish we hadn’t – that’s the kind of thing I can just tell he’ll now pick up instantly!

I think I’ll leave this account of Andrew’s language acquisition journey here for now, but of course there’ll be much more to share over the coming months and years. You can probably tell, given my background in linguistics, that I find this all fascinating. Since Andrew was a baby, I’ve been recording him ‘talking’ – obviously this started of with baby sounds like gurgling and cooing, then babbling, and now some actual words (although capturing words on the recording is pretty difficult, because he’s aware of the recorder and then doesn’t produce them on cue like he would if it was just the two of us playing together – Observer’s Paradox, as Labov would say). These recordings are all waiting for me to sift through them and do anything specific with them – one day, if I ever get time to do that kind of thing. For now, just writing about what’s going on is interesting enough in my opinion.