Things I Love About My New House That I Wish We’d Had in the UK

My new house in the US isn’t huge, it’s a fairly typical family home but over the past week I have felt myself walking around the house saying time and again ‘I love this house’. Why? Perhaps in part because none of my stuff has arrived yet so there is no clutter and some of the rooms are empty, it looks so clean and minimalistic which is very soothing. However, there is more to it than that, so much thought goes into the practicalities of a house here.  Here are my favourites:-

  1. Coffee Machines

coffeeThe last few years have been a blur of late nights (unfortunately not partying) and muddling through days in a coffee fuelled haze.  Since my pregnancy with my 3rd daughter I have become a big coffee fan. Coffee is big here in Starbucks land. Not all households have kettles but you can be sure they will have a coffee maker.  The coffee makers are mess free as the coffee is contained in filter papers so no more trying to dispose of coffee grounds. Even better the coffee stays on a heated plate so you always have a hot coffee.  No more microwaved coffee for me then, simple but genius.


2.  Storage

cupboards,cupboards and more cupboards

There are fitted cupboards in every room of this house. By the front door is a coat and shoe cupboard, each bedroom has fitted double wardrobes and the large bedrooms have 2, there is a linen cupboard in the utility room, a double cupboard outside our bedroom, a huge cupboard outside our kids bedroom plus another double wardrobe in the adjoining room attached.  When all our stuff arrives there should be loads of space to put the kids toys and general ‘stuff’ that I could never find a place for in the old house.  Here’s to a new me with a tidy and organised house.



3.  Bathrooms

double sinksMy 8 year old is delighted to have her own en suite (this also doubles up as a utility room with a huge top loading washing machine and tumble dryer)  my youngest 2  have their own bathroom and we have an en suite.  Multiple bathrooms are common here – it would be considered odd to have only 2.  Double sinks are in all the master bathrooms so no more fighting over sink space (the kids not me) and best of all are the multiple drawers and cupboards underneath the sinks.  No more piles of toiletries or bath toys on view, they will all fit inside the cupboards beneath the sinks.  My 3 year old removed all the toothbrushes, toothpaste etc. from her sinks a few days ago and put them in a drawer. It looks so tidy – I like what she is becoming (if we forget that she hid the soap). As an added bonus the bath in the children’s bathroom comes with a lever instead of a plug so there will be no more arguments about accidentally pulling the plug out.

The other thing I love about the bathrooms is that they have power sockets in them so my hairdryer and straighteners can live in the bathroom and the bedroom can be purely for relaxation.

4. Shower Curtains with Magnetic Bottoms

Okay, this one may be a little sad, but I love that our shower curtains have magnets in the corner that stick to the bath so you don’t have to worry about them flapping out of place and the bathroom floor getting soaked.



5. Huge Fridges

American fridges are popular in the UK but the door space is the biggest difference here.  The gallon cartons of milk fit comfortably into the door space, I could easily fit 4 of them in.  I have fresh produce and meat drawers leaving the rest of the space for important stuff like beer.

The recycling bins are huge wheelie bins here to cater for the giant cartons that go for recycling.



6. Fly Screens

doorwayWe don’t need to worry about mosquitoes in the UK but in a house backing onto woodland we did have midges, daddy long legs and maybugs not to mention houseflies. Here every door and window has a fly screen so you can have the benefit of keeping the door open without the annoyance of flies.  They wouldn’t have been very useful in the UK this Summer but they would have been great in the past.

I love this house and I didn’t even see it before we moved in.

The Phonics Debate – Alive and Kicking on Mumsnet

phonicsI have been reading with interest the continuing phonics debate on Mumsnet this week in response to  Guest Posts from Michael Rosen and Nick Gibb.

This year the UK government introduced phonics screening tests at the end of Year 1 and there is a firm commitment to the teaching of synthetic phonics as the primary method of teaching reading.

For me there are 2 key questions in this discussion:-

1. How important is phonics instruction for producing fluent readers?

2. Is it appropriate to test young children’s phonic knowledge?

1. The Importance of Phonics

Clearly, phonic knowledge is important.  I learned to read using the phonetically regular Meg the Hen books and was always an advanced reader.

Phase 1 of Letters and Sounds (a resource for pre-school children published by DFES in 2008) gives an excellent grounding for later phonic skills. The materials introduce phonics through listening and playing with sounds before any focus is put on the written letters.  My own children could recognise rhyme and alliteration at the age of 3 through playing games, and joining in with songs and rhymes.  In my opinion it is this groundwork in early life that is  sometimes missing in failing readers therefore phonic instruction in later phases becomes meaningless and sterile rather than fun. Building the underpinning skills through play is therefore an important factor.

There are numerous studies that cite the size of a child’s vocabulary in the pre-school years as an accurate indication of how easily they will learn to read.  Further studies suggest the importance of children understanding story structures and the language involved in re-telling stories.  Children develop vocabulary through talking and listening but to an even greater extent through reading.  When a child is unable to read or in the early stages of reading, the importance of adults reading to them cannot be underestimated. Not only does it encourage an interest in books but it also enriches vocabulary considerably. As evidence to this point my 8 year old who is an advanced reader has a rich vocabulary and writes with mature language and expression. She enjoyed advanced books such as Winnie the Pooh and Pippi Longstocking in her pre-school years.  She now reads Harry Potter, Little Women and the Narnia books and regularly inquires as to the meaning of words developing her vocabulary even further.  As a writer myself I am very aware of the impact reading has on the quality of my writing.

There is little doubt that there is a percentage of children who are failing to learn to read, having a detrimental effect on future academic success.  I would be interested in analysing the statistics to see what proportion of these are boys.  Most girls enjoy reading, mark making, role play and other early literacy related play.  Many boys do not.  In my opinion more needs to be done to channel boys natural interests in physical play and technology into literacy activities.  This does not have to exclude phonics as one of my colleagues demonstrated when she encouraged her pre-school boys to explore rhyme and rhythm by dressing them up as rappers, using electronic beats and encouraging them to make up their own raps.

To some extent therefore it is not what is taught that is the issue but the way that it is taught.  If phonic instruction is to be the key method of reading instruction then it must be engaging or children will switch off from day 1.

2. Phonic Testing

I understand the reasons for introducing this test and would by no means undermine the fact that we need to highlight failing readers early to give them the extra support they need.  However, I do feel that most teachers know the children who are struggling to read without the test. Certainly as a parent who has helped with reading in class this was easy to spot and it was also clear which children were struggling to decode using phonics. I think that putting children under pressure at a young age and giving parents another thing to worry about or be competitive about is wrong. I don’t have children who have been through these tests and from feedback from other parents I think that schools are handling them sensitively, ensuring that children are unaware that they are being tested, however I still feel that they are wrong.

Some children will be exposed to all of the experiences mentioned above but will still struggle to learn to read.  Perhaps the tests will help to identify and address these children’s needs at an early stage but I am wary that catching children when they are failing is not the best starting point to addressing the problem.

A further point that was raised in the discussion is that all children do not learn in the same way and that the ability to decode words does not automatically produce fluent readers.  I used to work with children on the autistic spectrum.  One of these children had a fascination with letters and sounds, he could read phonetically regular words before he started school but his understanding was at the level of a 1 year old.  When we read books together they were of the ‘Where’s Spot?’ type and anything more complex was beyond his understanding.  I realise that this is an extreme case but I believe that it is a cautionary tale to those who may think a good phonics test result means that their child is reading fluently.

I will be watching with interest as my children move through the US education system (especially as they will start school a year later than in the UK) to see how literacy teaching differs and whether there are similar worries about levels of attainment.

A Little Princess – A Tots100 Film Club Review

There were some lovely classic films to choose from this month and my 8 year old had a difficult time choosing, but as we had enjoyed the Secret Garden so much she chose another Frances Hodgson Burnett story – A Little Princess.

I watched some of it with my 3 year old who told me in great detail about why the Little Princess was sad

Her daddy died and the nasty lady made her do all the work and took all her things.

a little princess dvdThe story is a tale of imagination, positivity and hope but don’t expect to come away without shedding a tear or two. The key message of the film is that all little girls are princesses no matter what they look like or who they are -maybe not one for the femininist movement, but teaching girls that they are special is fine in my book.

There is a beautiful scene towards the end of the film involving the little princess and her dad – it brought tears to my eyes, especially pertinent as my girls had been without their dad for 3 weeks when we watched the film.

I was a little confused as to why the girl playing the little princess was American and the father was clearly British.  However, this has only encouraged me to read the book to discover where the original novel was set.

I think I’m becoming a bit of a Frances Hodgson Burnett fan.  Her stories talk of orphaned or lonely children and I’d be interested to read about her own life to see if any part of this is autobiographical.

The Little Princess is a stunning film visually as was the Secret Garden and is a family film in its truest form.