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British Children Learning to Read and Write in the US.

 

I knew my youngest children would learn to read and write in the US and as a result I would have to accept that they would spell differently and use American phrases and grammar.  There are some unexpected differences however that I hadn’t considered.

A few days ago my 4-year-old remarked,

“Mummy, all the other children at preschool don’t write t’s properly”

“Really! Can you show me”

It is a bit like an x, like this……

t

My youngest is 4, I taught her to write her name but it never crossed my mind that letter formation might be different here.

I asked my kindergartener

” Do you write a curly bit on the bottom of the letter t at school?”

“No we do it like a cross”

I checked with the teacher and she explained that they use the ball and stick method where  letters such as t, w and y use straight lines rather than curves as they feel it is easier for the young children to master. It is one of many differences that I hadn’t anticipated.

alphabet ball and stick

I always believed the transition would be most difficult for my eldest, who went  to school in England until she was 8, so learned to read, spell and write ‘the English way’. The first thing she noticed, was that punctuation had different names; full stops were periods and brackets became parentheses.  We were really keen that she wouldn’t lose her knowledge of British spelling, so school agreed that she could learn both.  As an avid reader and proficient speller this wasn’t really difficult.

Choosing books wasn’t simple either. Most books by British authors are rewritten for an American audience.  When we borrow books by British authors from the library or buy books here, they are American versions.  My daughter is really eager to maintain her ‘Britishness’, so we often order books from the UK. This way she can still read books with British spelling and vocabulary and is able to read literature from both cultures. Tonight we read an American translation of Pippi Longstocking. This was my daughter’s favourite book for many years, so she knew much of the text by heart.  Every time she spotted a difference, she would quote the British text. In the end we got her old battered copy down to compare. I was surprised that though the meaning remained the same, the texts were very different. The monkeys name was different and the language in the British version was more detailed and poetic (although I am sure that the original Swedish is even more rich).

“A remarkable child” said one of the sailors, wiping a tear from his eye when Pippi disappeared from view. (British translation)

” A remarkable child” said one of the sailors as Pippi disappeared in the distance (American translation)

My daughter’s desire to maintain her British identity isn’t without its pitfalls.  Once she was marked down in a piece of writing because she referred to a ladybird rather than a ladybug (which I felt was a little harsh).

I thought things would be simpler for the younger ones because they started school here but they have been faced with different challenges:

1. The alphabet ends with zee (my daughter has decided that it makes more sense the American way because the song rhymes).

2.  What sound does a short ‘o’  make? To us it is o as in fox, box and top but American pronunciation is different, instead it makes the sound a as in fax, bax or tap. Confusing but also a little amusing to the girls who still have perfect English accents. I think I was fortunate that my daughter was beginning to read when she went to school and had already learned basic phonics so this wasn’t too much of an issue.

3. School reading books have American phrases which to a Brit’s ears sound totally wrong and often make me shudder. An examples from today’s reading book is :

Let’s go find Leo.

The omission of “ly’ at the end of adverbs is common as in ‘We need to be real quick’. I suppose one positive is that the girls generally notice and remark that it sounds different.  When my daughter reads a word that we don’t use, she substitutes it for the British word “I’m just going to say mum not mom”.

4. Sometimes they complete worksheets where they have to circle pictures that begin with particular letters. This can be confusing if the British word is different from the American or if it is something traditionally American like baseball equipment.

On the whole I think the girls awareness of the differences gives them a far richer experience of the written word.  It certainly gives us a lot to talk about.

 

Why Do Young Children Draw Belly Buttons?

IMG_2251

My youngest daughter (age 4) has recently started to draw detailed pictures. Mostly they are people.  She always starts with the eyes, adds a nose and mouth and then draws the circle for a head. After adding hair, she draws a torso, arms, legs, hands and feet.  The finishing touch is always a belly button. I found this fascinating. I don’t remember my older children doing this for any sustained period of time, if at all.

In the earliest stages of children’s drawings of people, there is no torso. At this stage they often draw a navel (or circle) between the legs to depict that there is a torso there.  I’m not so familiar with children drawing belly buttons onto a torso however.

drawing by 4 yr old of man with belly button

Clearly, children under the age of 5 do not generally draw clothes on their people.   Seeing a navel on her sister’s drawing, immediately led my 6-year old to the assumption that it was naked. As they talked through the drawing together, the picture became one of a daddy and his little girl in the shower and anatomically correct details were added.  These didn’t survive into later drawings when her sister was not present but the placement of the belly button continued.

There is a boy and a girl holding hands, the boy is a man and the girl is his child. They are naked because they were in the shower. ( The lines above are water from the shower)
There is a boy and a girl holding hands, the boy is a man and the girl is his child. They are naked because they were in the shower. ( The lines above are water from the shower)

My intrigue grew, when a friend with a child of a similar age shared her daughter’s drawing of the family.  There was the belly button again.

I  decided to ask an expert and consulted Ursula Kolbe author of Rapunzel’s Supermarket:All about Young Children and Their Art for help. She suggested that children are fascinated by belly buttons and the drawing of a simple round shape is often intensely satisfying.  Perhaps then, it is the circles that she finds fascinating.  The drawing sequence always begins with eyes made up of a circle within a circle. Kolbe also suggested that children often copy the ideas of other children but since my little one is yet to attend preschool and only has her sisters to influence her this is unlikely in her case.

4 yr old drawing people

Often what children include or don’t include in their drawings is determined by the sequence in which they draw. “If a child draws a torso and then legs they sometimes won’t go back up to include a navel even if they intended to do so” says Kolbe.  I watched my daughter’s sequence with interest; she always drew the whole person and then went back to draw the navel as a finishing touch.

 

child's drawing of people

Sorting through boxes, I came across some old photographs of me as a child. In amongst them was this.

childs drawing of people

 

I must have been 4 or 5 years old when I drew this man, complete with belly button.  What a magnificent and timely discovery to help solve my conundrum.

Fairy Houses in the Woods.

fairy houseLook I think someone has been building fairy houses in the trees!

Do you believe in fairies? On a quiet walk around Beaver Lake Park, we discovered that they had taken up residence. Had the fairies crafted their own houses or had someone else built them to entice them in? Either option was equally magical to a 3-year-old. Having recently finished our own fairy garden, she was desperate to build a house herself and ran to fetch her sister. We carefully tiptoed around the trees, discovering at least a dozen fairy houses and rooms.

Fairy Hogwarts
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
This one had a swing made from blades of grass and a piece of bark.
This was my favourite.
This was my favourite.

fairy bathroom
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.

This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
fairy steps
Maybe I could build some steps to go up to this room.

Meanwhile on another tree, her sister was building a bridge to reach from one tree stump to the other.  We searched for the right sized piece of wood.

That's perfect.
That’s perfect.

They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.

furniturebuilding a fairy house

fairy house 3

They really wanted to stay but the night was drawing in and mummy was slowly being eaten alive by mosquitos. Every little girl knows that fairies come out at dusk and are afraid of humans. We needed to leave the woods quickly to give the fairies a chance to discover their new home. I wonder what type of fairy will choose to rest there?

Pirate Play

pirate play
The crocodiles don’t like this colour so they won’t pull it into the swamp.

In the hot sunshine the girls don’t really need a lot of encouragement to play with water.  When I suggested we set up their pirate ship in the garden and make a plank that they could jump from into the paddling pool, they thought it was a great idea.

To make it truly authentic, we made pirate swords so they could push each other off the plank in true pirate fashion. They coloured them with chubbie paint markers  before adding jewels.

making pirate swords pirate sword

We emptied the paddling pool to clean it, leaving water on the lawn.  The girls decided that this should be a swamp where crocodiles lived.  They collected branches to lay across it so that they could cross the swamp.

branches to cover a swamp
Leaves are the only thing that works to help us cross the swamp, everything else sinks.

 

They then went on the lookout for something to use as a plank and decided on a large branch that had been pruned from our maple.

I had been changing the words to songs to fit a pirate themed music class. ‘If you’re a pirate and you know it say aaarh’, ‘1 little, 2 little, 3 little pirates’ and , ‘there were 10 in the ship and the pirate said walk the plank’.  The girls made up songs of their own, counting down as the pirates walked the plank one-by-one.

walking the plank

Next they set out on a pirate treasure hunt. One of the girls hid the treasure and made an X from sticks to mark where it was. My eldest made a map and clues for the girls to follow.

We should find a green ball here.
We should find a green ball here.
Now we need to go this way towards the den.
Now we need to go this way towards the den.
Open the chest with the magic key. Wow, look at the treasure!
Open the chest with the magic key. Wow, look at the treasure!

More Pirate Play Ideas

Winter Pirates

Quills

Pirate Phonics

 

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. Some of the art materials were gifted for trial purposes.

Building a Fairy Garden

Years ago, when my eldest was small, there was a tree stump at the bottom of our garden.  I thought it would be magical to put a fairy door on it and pretend that fairies lived there.  My daughter left notes for the fairies (some suitably spoiled by the great British weather) and they replied in tiny writing.  The stump was soon forgotten as the winter set in and the bottom of the garden seemed such a long way to travel.

When we moved here we made a rudimentary attempt at creating a fairy garden in a planter.  The little ones saw this as a perfect opportunity to smother it in glitter leaving my eldest a little disappointed with the messy results.

tree trunks

The moment I saw the garden in our new house, I knew that the cluster of trees would make the perfect fairy garden.  When I suggested it to the girls they were very excited and we collected ideas, requested materials and made plans.

The fairy door was made from those mysterious small pieces of wood that come attached to a painting canvas.  A lentil was chosen for the door knob.

fairy door

Next we collected small stones to make a pathway to the door.

pathway to the door in a firy gardenWe made gates from the same pieces of wood as the door and placed small sticks around the edge of the path to create a barrier.

fairy garden doorway

Many of the materials were gifted by the Buy Nothing Group including the little bells we hung across the entrance, glass beads to make the stream, jam jar lids for table tops  and our very own fairy.

fairyAt a garage sale we found packs of miniature accessories for teddy bear collectors.  We decided to use them to make a tea room for the fairies.

The tables were made from jam jar lids and cardboard cylinders.

Making toadstools for a fairy garden

Corks were painted with nail varnish to make toadstool seats.

toadstools from corks

The embellishments were added to make a perfect fairy tea room.

fairy tea roomfairy tea room

One of the girls wanted to make a pool for the fairies, we found a pot, dug it into the ground and she added glitter and sequins.

fairy pool

The girls decided to use a wicker ring  as a fire pit and arranged twigs inside for the bonfire.
fairy fire pit

Next we added a stream made of glass beads and outlined the edges with pebbles.

fairy stream

Small flower pots created a boundary between the stream and the tea room and we sprinkled a few seeds on top.

planting

During the winter we found a log in the firewood with a knot that looked like a door.  My eldest saved it to make a fairy house.  She carved windows with a pocket knife and stuck twigs along the edges with wood glue.  The roof was made from moss.

fairy houseAs  a finishing touch we added steps leading up to the house.

The fairies and elves seem very happy with their new habitat.

fairy garden

 

9 Water Gun Activities for Summer Fun

We recently acquired a set of water guns because the girls love a water fight. On a hot day a water fight is great fun but it isn’t always warm enough. When a water fight isn’t the best option, here are some other water gun activities you could try.

1. Ping-Pong Blast

fun with a water gun

Line up golf tees with ping-pong balls placed on top.

Ready, Steady, Blast…….

How many can you knock down?

water gun

2. Fireworks Display

“Come outside, we’ve got something to show you”,  the girls called out one evening, shortly after July 4th. They treated us to a watery firework display, creating shapes with their water guns and giving each one a different name.

water gun play

3. Skittles/Bowling

Using a set of garden skittles (or in our case bottles, tin cans and cups) line them up and see how many you can knock down by squirting water at them.

garden bwling

4. Ball push

Lay out different types of balls.

Which ones do you think you can move with the water gun?

ball push
It moves just a little bit.

5. Duck Race

Race ducks in the paddling pool, using the water gun to move them from one side to the other.

duck race

6. Ring the Bell

Hang a bell , saucepan lid or other metallic object from a bush and investigate the sound it makes if you squirt it.  You could try a variety of objects and listen to the different sounds.

cowbell

7. Trampoline Splash

My youngest decided to spray the trampoline and invited me to bounce. As we bounced the water splashed into the air like jumping in a puddle. Great for bouncing on  a hot day.

spraying the trampoline

8. Water the plants

If you are looking for little helpers, why not let them water the plants with their water gun?

watering

9. I’ve challenged the older girls to design a water gun obstacle course and race against each other or a timer.

water_gun_activites.png

Free Resources for Play and Ideas for How to Use Them.

We have recently joined a wonderful group called Buy Nothing. The idea is that people in the local community share, via a Facebook group, the things they no longer need and offer them to others for free.  It is a great way for an outsider like me to feel part of the community. Our group also has a central meeting point, where you can drop off and collect reserved items or look through the other items, to find little gems.  Browsing the things people have offered has inspired lots of new play opportunities.  Here are a few to share. You may be inspired to use some of the things you have stashed away or maybe even set up a Buy Nothing group of your own.

 

The Flower Shop

We were given a huge amount of fabric flowers from a member. I  had often considered  setting  up a play flower shop at nursery but the flowers were so expensive and we needed a large quantity.  I was very excited to finally have the chance to try it out. The girls have been making flower arrangements, taking telephone and internet orders and delivering the flowers in a little car.  After posting  photographs of the shop on the group page, we have been gifted even more flowers; such is the beauty of a community like this.

The girls have loved this so much and it looks really beautiful in the garden.  They asked if there was such a thing as a real flower shop; so that’s next on the agenda.

Baby Bath – Water Beads and a Nail Salon

There was a poor, lonely baby bath, crying out for attention on one of our recent visits.  A few water beads and hollow eggs later and we had an activity for my toddler class.

water beads

The girls had more great ideas when I brought it home. The water beads in the bath made a perfect foot spa for a nail salon.

foot spa

Squeezy Bottles for Puffy Paint

Someone was giving away squeezy bottles, they were perfect for  puffy paint.

puffy paint

My eldest was very impressed

Wow! What is this?

she remarked, when she spotted the dry pictures.

Mirror Play

I saw an image of a beautiful mirrored table recently, so when someone offered mirrors, I thought we could recreate something similar.

 

I am so lucky to be able to provide my children with these opportunities due to the generosity of others. Inspired? Why not create a Buy Nothing group in your locality?

 

 

 

 

 

America’s Most Playful Family?

boxes

 

We have recently received some very exciting news.  Our family have been selected from over 700 applicants as one of 50 semi-finalists in America’s Most Playful Family Contest. To enter we were asked to answer a number of questions about our play, including why it is important and how we make time for play.

I strive very hard to make my children’s lives playful and to share the things we do with others, so to be chosen as a semi-finalist makes me very proud.

washing the car

As a semi-finalist we receive a video camera and have been asked to create a 90 second video sharing tips to encourage other families to be more playful and showing that play can happen anywhere.  I have a huge list of things that I would like to show and it will be a big challenge to my editing skills to fit everything into 90 seconds. Brevity isn’t always my strength, so it will be good for me to pin down the most important messages to share.

walking on ice

The videos will be posted on a You Tube channel, so families can get tips and ideas about play and will be judged by a panel.  You will be relieved to know that I won’t be asking for votes but it would be nice if you would view the video and tell us what you think (I’ll embed the link here once it goes live).

sand man

The winner gets to choose a community in their state that deserves a very special playground.  This will be a great way to learn about local worthy causes and  help disadvantaged kids. Of course there are prizes for us too but for me being chosen as a playful family is a great prize in itself.

goop

For my children…

This post was originally written by a dear friend of mine who writes about her life since she was diagnosed with MS. We all want the best for our children but what do you do when you know that you may have passed on a genetic condition? Please visit her blog Memsand beingmum.wordpress.com to follow her story and to offer support to anyone you may know who lives with MS. She is a true inspiration to us all.

my oms life

I was asked to write a guest post (re-blogged below) for the lovely www.stumblinginflats.com. Do take at look at her site. She connects with many other MS bloggers/survivors and is keen to network with others. Thanks to her for the guest blog opportunity. I decided to write about something that is a little unspoken for many of us mums whose lives have been touched by MS.

 

Anyone who has been diagnosed with MS knows this is big. The implications of your diagnosis for your children are huge, though in many respects are as yet unknown. Like so much about this condition, you are left with a cloud of uncertainty under which you must continue to raise your precious loves.  Like me I am sure many of you read the information and depending on what and where you read it, it will mean different things. At the very least your…

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Ideas for Outdoor Play in the Springtime

whisking water

Springtime in Seattle is as unpredictable as springtime in the UK.  Today we have glorious sunshine, yesterday we played in the ice and frost and a week ago we were playing in the rain.

Whatever the weather the girls are drawn to the outside and unlike the summer when they sometimes complain that it is too hot, they tend to stay outside for a long time.

ducks

 

We have a pair of ducks that are regular visitors to our garden in the spring. What better way to get the girls outside than to send them out to find the ducks and feed them.

 

A Bug Hunt

We had a bug explore kit for Christmas, so while I was doing a little gardening, the girls decided to look for bugs.  The warm weather had brought lots of spiders and beetles to the surface. They were fast and quite difficult to catch.

I found a beetle.
I found a beetle.
I have a spider
I have a spider

As I was turning over the soil, the girls decided to dig with trowels for worms and observe them in their pots.

The worm is very wriggly.
The worm is very wriggly.

Gardening

I’ve tried for years to grow wildflowers without any success. We chose to mix the seeds with sand from the sandpit, scatter them and rake them in.  We don’t need to water them too much this time of the year because of the rain and they are slowly starting to grow. Each day we check on their progress and talk about how delicate they still are, so to be careful where we tred.

 Painting the Ground

The girls began by painting pebbles with bright colours and then decided to paint pictures on the driveway.

pebble painting

I suggested that they might like to paint the stepping-stones, they thought this was a great idea.

 

When we take paint outside they nearly always decide to paint hands or feet.  The paint left footprints on the driveway.

foot painting

I know, we could play an easy kind of hide and seek. One person hides and we have to follow their footprints.

They followed the footprints across the path. When they got to the grass, they were difficult to follow, so they made arrows from sticks. We found a little piece of treasure, in the shape of one lonely violet.

violets

Echoes

As we were sat on the driveway painting they noticed that their voices were echoing.

Mummy why do our voices sound all echoing?

I don’t know, do they still echo when we stand up?

Yes

We moved something to see if that made a difference.

We are still echoing.

How do you make echoes?

You need a sort of tunnel. It works when we talk in a tube. The driveway doesn’t look like  a tunnel.

I’ll have to dig out ‘Little Beaver and the Echo’ and explore this further.

Flowers and Plants

I love it when they explore the flowers and plants. Heather is great for playing rain showers and we are looking forward to the blossoms falling from the trees and making ‘fairy rain’. The girls were so excited that the trees are full of blossom and ran to tell the other children in the street.

Harry Potter

Pavement chalk is  a big favourite.  When the children play in the street together they draw towns on the ground and play that they are visiting the shops or hospital.  Recently, they were playing Harry Potter and drew a huge Hogwarts castle in the road. They collected sticks for wands and branches for broomsticks (I left them the cuttings from trimming the trees) and with a tennis ball they played Quidditch.  The potion station is also perfect for mixing spells.

Water Spritz

I suggested that we take water spritzers outside filled with paint.  The girls tried the painting but were much more keen to take them out with only water in.

First they wanted to clean.

They wanted to spray each other, it wasn’t really warm enough but my 3-year-old had a good idea.  She ran to fetch her umbrella.

I know we could use this as a shield.

umbrella shield

With rain expected for the weekend – I wonder what other ideas they will come up with.