Our choice of nursery (preschool age)

I can’t believe that Andrew has just had his first week at preschool. It does’t seem long ago that he was a baby and we were treading through this thing called parenthood, not totally sure what we were doing, but doing our best to get off to a good start. Now he’s a chatty, confident and active boy, who loves playing with other children his own age (or older, or sometimes his little brother, if in a good mood). He’s absolutely loved preschool this week, just as he did for his settling sessions – the staff were amazed at how happy and confident he was from the word go.

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We started looking at preschools not long after we moved to Coventry where we would live ‘temporarily’ for 7 months before moving into our new home in Birmingham. I started with Google, having no clue about preschools in the area, and wrote down about 5 that were nearest to where we intended to live. I had a look at their websites, and emailed about visiting. The two places that got back to me within the day were the two nurseries run as part of the University of Birmingham, and that’s Tom’s employer too. I arranged visits on days that I knew Granny could help out, so she could look after Joel while Andrew and I looked around. I also heard back from one other preschool by email a day or two later – that was the local ‘nursery school’ – so I arranged a visit there too.

When we looked around at each preschool, they all came across as quite different from each other. The two university ones were daycare nurseries that had different rooms for different ages, from babies to pre-schoolers; both had a room just for 3 and 4 year olds. The nursery school was essentially a school year below reception, so only taking children for the academic year before they would go to school, which is this September for Andrew.

The main thing that struck me about our visits to all three was the amount that the members of staff talked to me versus how much they talked to Andrew and down at his level. At the school, the head teacher showed us around, and basically only talked to me. The children were all wearing uniform, and the rooms were laid out very much like classrooms – it looked and felt like a school with 3-4 year olds there. Sure it looked like a fun school, but school nonetheless. Andrew stayed with me for most of the visit, except when he saw a rocket painted on the playground and went off to count the numbers on it.

The main campus university nursery was different. The deputy manager talked quite a bit to Andrew, but was still mainly talking to me as she showed us around. She was very keen to point out all the different facilities they had, how they monitored children’s progress, and the systems and policies that they had in place for various aspects of the nursery. It too looked fun, and definitely less ‘school-like’ than the nursery school. Andrew went off to play with some other children in one of the rooms, and otherwise stayed with me.

The smaller campus university nursery was even more different. The deputy manager showing us around talked in equal measure to me and Andrew, bending down to talk to him on his level. The building didn’t look as fancy as the other two, but it was still bright and cheery inside and definitely not like a school – there were far more toys and fewer tables and chairs. Pretty much as soon as we walked in, Andrew was off playing with other children and exploring what was on offer with no hesitation. I had the full tour with our guide, but he was free to do as he pleased and join in with the day’s activities. In fact at the end it was hard to drag him away. I knew there and then that this was where I wanted him to go, where I thought would be best for him.

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It may not have been the one with the ‘outstanding’ Ofsted report, or the lovely old building, or the biggest number of educational ‘gadgets’, or the most recent decoration, but it was the one where Andrew clearly felt immediately at home and able to leave my side. For us it is important that he goes somewhere with an emphasis on play and not on formal education. Of course they all follow the EYFS, but how they interpret that in their style of ‘teaching’ versus ‘play’ seemed quite different from what we saw. And we made a positive decision to go for the most play-based one.

In this country we already start formal education much earlier than in other countries in western Europe, and there is good evidence that starting school as early as 4 years old does not make kids cleverer, in fact it could result in poorer academic performance (a brief summary of this evidence by an academic at a reputable university – I used to work in his faculty too 😉 – can be found here http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence).

Andrew seems to be doing well in his learning already, even without having gone to any nursery until now. He picks things up from us and from his play. He likes letters and numbers, and is starting to read and write basic words. He asks how things work, and why things happen. He likes to look at maps and books with both fictional stories and factual writing in. This has just happened over time, we haven’t forced it on him, but have been lead by his keenness to learn from everyday life. So we don’t see why being in a school-like environment would change this for the better.

If there’s no need for a change in environment to make him learn more, why go to preschool at all? Well he’s going mainly because he loves being around other children his age – he’s much happier at the park, for example, if there are others his age to play with rather than just little brother. As we haven’t built up a network of friends here in Birmingham yet, nursery is a great way for him to start building these friendships, some of which may continue into school age. It gives him some time completely separate from little brother, and I get to spend time one-to-one with Joel, just like I did with Andrew before he was born. It also gives me chance to work more, and get things done while Joel is napping that would bore Andrew. I’m sure we will continue to do lots of learning together in our everyday lives outside of the 15 hours that he goes to preschool in the week, and I fully accept that as a parent this is my role; I don’t want to palm off all learning to the teachers in the formal education setting – they already have far too much to deal with in large classes.

I’ve written this account of my thoughts towards preschool partly for us, to have a record to look back on of why we chose the nursery that we did and why it was important to us, and partly to share our experience, for anyone else who might be considering nurseries and preschools and would like to read our perspective, though I know all children are different and what suits one may not suit another. I hope it has been useful if that’s the case for you.

Look Mummy, I made a number 2! – wot so funee?

Where did that last week go?! I’m totally out of sync with days; we had a short week last week and this week, as we got back from holiday mid-week and then the bank holiday this week. So I’m writing this round-up of the week’s toddler-isms quickly on Tuesday morning.

Andrew is very keen to point out these days that he is a ‘big boy’, in contrast to Joel who is a baby or little boy. When we arrived at one of our local Children’s Centres on Friday morning for a group, he wanted to make this matter clear too: ‘We’re at the Children’s Centre, also the Big Boys’ centre’

As I type the two ‘the’s there, that reminds me that he’s doing an interesting thing when he says this word now. As you’ve probably realised from your own speech, there are two ways of pronouncing ‘the’ in running speech – one with a kind of ‘uh’ vowel, which almost blends into other words and you hardly hear it, and one that sounds like the old-fashioned word ‘thee’. He hasn’t been using the word ‘the’ much until recently, which is normal for language acquisition, those small words tend to come after they start saying the nouns that they go with. Now he is using it, he mostly uses the ‘thee’ pronunciation, which sounds really weird to me, because it makes the ‘the’s stand out much more than in my speech where there seems to be a more even mix of both pronunciations. I presume he has heard this from us, as this pronunciation is more prominent than the ‘uh’ one, and he has stuck to one for now; I’m sure the other will come in time, it’s just very interesting linguistically at the moment.

Another interesting thing that we’ve noticed recently is his use of ‘yesterday’ to mean any day or time in the past, and ‘tomorrow’ to mean any day or time in the future. This is generally understandable, though can cause some confusion if I’m not quite on the ball.

I haven’t written much about our adventures in languages other than English recently, because what he comes out with himself is mostly English. When asked questions in French or German, he clearly understands (most of the time) because he replies in English with a correct or plausible answer. He does randomly start counting in French or German at times, and he sings along to the CDs we have in these languages. I doubt he has a clue what he’s singing about half the time, just like many old English nursery rhymes make no sense to a toddler! But one thing that I know he knows is ‘häschen hüpf’ (‘hop little rabbit’) which he likes to say when he jumps. It was funny when he randomly asked me ‘was ist das?’ the other day though, rather than his usual ‘wassat?’ – his most favourite question in the whole world at the moment.

We had a comedy moment at dinner time one day this week….

  • Andrew: jabbering on in ‘googoo gaga’ language, trying to imitate Joel’s babbling
  • Me (quietly to myself, not expecting him to hear): what are you on?!
  • Andrew: erm, a seat!
  • Daddy: haha, that’s brilliant Andrew! Turns to me… See, it shows he understanded
  • Me: haha, now you’ve forgotten how to speak English!

And finally, I can’t forget Andrew’s first ‘written’ funee (which is where the ‘wot so funee’ linky started)….

‘Look Mummy, I made a number 2!’ (Of course I’m biased, but I think this use of some garden gravel is brilliant for a 2.5 year old!)

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Wot So Funee?

Number and letter fun in the sun – #CountryKids

With all this glorious sunshine, it’s not been at all difficult to entertain two little ones who love being outside. It’s been lovely just to spend time in the garden, and to go to our favourite parks and open spaces.

The paddling pool has been a big hit with both boys, though I can’t believe how small it looks to me now – the last time we had it out we only had an 18/19 month old as opposed to a nearly 2.5 year old and an 8 month old taking up their space in it. With some bath toys in it, this provided hours of fun throughout the week, starting at the weekend when Daddy was around; we’ve had it out both in the garden and on the balcony.

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We’ve also had some fun with numbers and letters this sunny week. Andrew is very into them, and he enjoys saying them out loud whenever he sees them written somewhere. One afternoon I took a beaker of water and a paint brush outside and told him that we were going to do some painting. He was excited, and was intrigued to watch me ‘painting’ with water on the bricks of the drive; he then had a go himself, and was fascinated to watch our artwork disappear (pretty quickly in this heat!). We painted a few things on the bricks that were warm in the sun, but his favourite was of course the letters. I heard of this idea a while ago, I think when talking to a friend at a group, but I can’t actually remember who, when or where now. But it provided some cheap and cheerful fun on a sunny day.

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The photos don’t seem to have come out as well as I’d hoped, but I think you can get the idea

One morning we popped up to Anglesey Abbey, our local National Trust property. I blogged about this for Country Kids earlier in the year when it was much colder and Andrew went everywhere with his yellow coat on. Since that time, Andrew has made a new game which we have to play whenever we go, he won’t let me get away without it! There is a path that leads through a part of the gardens with lots of shrubs in, and for each specifies/variety there is a little plaque with a number on next to the plant. I presume there must be some guide book that you can take out with you which tells you what each number is, though we’ve never done that. Andrew’s game is to ride along the path on his bike and shout out all the numbers that he spots on his way. Sometimes they are obvious, and others are hidden under leaves and harder to spot. He would happily go up and down this path all day if he could. Here is (quite a long) video of him playing this fun game!

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There is also a new activity board near the water mill that tells you all about how flour is milled there. Andrew is fascinated by the wheels that you can spin around on it! One of the wheels (the far right) is a pizza – he particularly likes that one 😉

So that was our week of outdoor fun in the sun. Let’s hope the good weather continues!

Linking up with the fantastic linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog – Country Kids
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

We have blast off! Toddler speech development

In the past couple of months my blog posts have been quite focused on pregnancy and baking. As I glance across to my sidebar whilst typing, I’m reminded that there are other categories that I like to write about. One of these is linguistics, and within the past month, just before Joel was born and since the birth, we’ve seen something that definitely fits into that category – Andrew’s speech development has suddenly hit blast off! He’s gone from saying just a few words to coming out with several new ones a day, and copying some of the words out of what we say with pretty amazing accuracy. I really need to watch what I say now, including those moments when it’s all going wrong and a potentially naughty word slips off my tongue before I know it.

In fact it’s not just us that he copies. The other day we were at a clinic to get discharged from midwife care for Joel. Andrew wasn’t the only toddler there, and at one point another little boy’s mum shouted across to him as he was messing with someone else’s car seat: “Riley, I’m watching you!” Andrew proceeded to say very loudly “Watch you!”, as I went a rather interesting shade of red and thought to myself: here beginneth years of embarrassment with toddler/child (deliberate) slips of the tongue. But hey, that’s part and parcel of having kids, and I’m sure I’ll be just as embarrassing for him one day.

Counting and naming colours whilst stacking pots - Daddy is explaining that we're currently missing number 9 of 10, a green pot, and we have no idea where it is!

Two things that he’s very into at the moment are numbers and colours. The best way to get him to demonstrate his abilities is with his set of 10 stacking pots. He happily counts the pots as he stacks them, sometimes getting carried away and counting faster than he can stack! Eight is often the number he slows down for and struggles with, though I’m not quite sure why – to me this combination of sounds doesn’t seem particularly harder than other numbers; maybe it’s the fact it starts with a vowel (? – only thing I can think of now). English is no problem for him now, and he’s even starting to say some of the French and German numbers; he can count to 10 in French, just about, though German is a bit slower to come as he only consistently says a few of those numbers (I have no idea why German should be slower than French). Another way he likes to practise counting is with the book Animal Airways – I’d definitely recommend this, it’s great! With each turn of the page, another group of animals is added, starting at one and ending up at 10.

Going back to the stacking pots, Andrew likes telling us the colours as he stacks them high. At first he started off with just the primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and green, and now he’s expanded to others including purple, orange, pink, black, white, grey etc. He’s now started putting a colour with a noun to describe objects, for example he’ll say “red car” or “blue cup” or “green tree”. To me this really makes him sound grown up!

There are other instances where he strings 2 or more words together, not just an adjective and noun pair like the colour examples. Since Tom has gone back to work after paternity leave last week, Andrew has said “Dada work” every morning when he’s gone. He’s figuring out possessives and says things like “Mama’s car” (I love the fact that he calls it my car!) and “Dada’s drink”; he’s starting to say mine and yours, but I think he gets them mixed up a lot, saying yours when he means mine and vice versa. The nicest example of word strings recently has been the phrase “Pop up and down” that he’s been saying a lot since last weekend. The story is that his paternal grandad, who he calls Pop, came to visit, and the place where we said goodbye to him when he had to catch the train back was at the lift, which Andrew calls an “up and down”, in John Lewis. So ever since, Andrew has kept saying “Pop up and down” to remind us that this is the last place he saw Pop before he left! We’ve even started to hear what is technically a full sentence: he says “It’s a [insert object name, e.g. ball]” when he’s naming some objects for us. This is probably one of the easiest sentences in English to start off with.

Until recently he didn’t say his own name, or so I thought, but it suddenly dawned on me one day that he was saying it, just not in a phonetically very accurate way! His version is something more like “A-tar” than “An-drew”. He’s learned his brother’s name very quickly, though the “J” sound is hard to say, so it sounds like “Dole”. In general, however, his pronunciation is getting more similar to adult speakers’ for the easier sounds. I was interested to hear him say “glasses” with a long “a” sound – he must have picked that up from Granny/Grandad or friends who say it like that, as both Tom and I say it with a short “a” sound, a northern rather than southern “a”.

A great action shot of the top pot falling off the stack. (The white thing in the foreground is the back of Joel's head!)

His first words were all one syllable long, and his first 2-syllable word was “flower” quite a while ago. Recently I’ve noticed many more 2-syllable words, including his name of course. Other examples include “Grandma” and “orange”. So far he’s not said any longer words, unless you count “up-and-down” as one word, which it apparently is in his mind. I find it interesting that all the 2-syllable words he says have stress on the first syllable – most English 2-syllable words have first-syllable stress – but he says “tar” for “guitar” which has second-syllable stress (it was originally from French), even when I repeat “guitar” back to him several times and ask him if he can say it, it’s still “tar” for him, so he’s basically only saying the stressed syllable.

Most words that he says are English, although he understands a lot more in French and German than he can produce. I can tell this from how he responds by pointing and talking back in English when I ask him things in French/German. Two words that he uses a lot are, however, “Baum” (German for tree) and “pap-pap” (French “papillion” for butterfly) instead of the English words. I’m guessing the “b” of Baum is easier for him than the “tr” of tree, and perhaps the song “vole, vole, vole papillion” that’s on our French CD can explain that preference?

I think that’s all I have to say about Andrew’s language for now, but I can imagine that it will continue to develop quickly over the coming months and there will be lots more to say pretty soon. I’m finding it fascinating to witness first hand the incredible journey that is a child going from gurgling baby to fully fledged chatterbox (he is my son, after all 🙂 )