Red Cabbage Indicator – by Cana (age 9 and three quarters)

Making the pH scale out of things you have at home

In this picture we are pouring red cabbage water into a jug which we made by boiling a red cabbage and adding three cups of water in. Red cabbage dye was actually used in chemist’s laboratories for them to use instead of litmus paper until it was available.




In the next step we placed eight cups on some white paper (other colours won’t work, you’ll soon see why,)and then we labelled the ingredients we put in a cup. Then we poured 100 ml of cider vinegar into the first cup, and another 100 ml of water into the other cups, we also put a table spoon of vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, lemon juice…, into the leftover seven cups.


In this picture we are putting 5.0ml of the red cabbage water into the cups with a syringe. We knew it would be easier to do it in a syringe because it would be a lot quicker than a measuring jug or cup.


After adding the red cabbage water, this is what the cups looked like, and we didn’t just put completely different liquids in there!

Then we arranged them into the pH scale,


Just so you don’t have to scroll up and down to see the difference, we put the beginning and end pictures together and here it is:


before and after.jpg


    What do you think?


Letter reversals and teaching joined handwriting.

So, I learnt cursive when I was about 9. Second year juniors we used to call it. Now, year 4. The head used to come in to do it with us on the big white board that needed wiping down with wet paper-towels during playtime. When I started work at my first job, fresh from university, I was stunned to discover that the year ones I was teaching already knew how to join. They had begun in Reception, aged four, and by Year 1, some of them joined all the time and most of them at least mixed. I immediately thought what a fantastic idea it was to just get the handwriting over and done with all at once, instead of re-learning a new way a few years later.

I taught my own children to join as soon as they could form all the letters correctly and the older two took to it perfectly. The youngest has struggled with writing and I had to go a lot slower with her, which may or may not be related to the fact that she is left handed. Clearly not all left-handed children struggle to learn to write, but she has. She wanted to write from right to left, simple as. She has a three letter name and it took weeks of practise before she could form the letter e, and then more weeks before she would put all three letters together.


I love this picture, and not only because she looks adorably feral in her pink knickers (she really isn’t fond of clothes) but because you can see her lovely right to left writing. Mae’s best friend is called Cara, that’s the big red writing, with the C and r both reversed and the a’s not. I painted her name in brown paint, Mae, and she has copied it underneath, backwards, and then she has written ‘pig’, also backwards (pigs are her favourite animals).

This picture was taken in July 2015, six months or so ago, the month Mae turned five. She was doing daily letter-forming practise, which she loved, and was an enthusiastic writer – you just couldn’t actually read it!

Once she had learned to form most the alphabet correctly we immediately began working on joining her letters. I was hoping this would help her with her letter reversals but I guessed, correctly, she would need a lot of what we teachers call ‘scaffolding’.

We carried on with what she liked and felt comfortable with, which was writing over my letters with a highlighter or felt-tip pen. She would do it every day and it took less than ten minutes. And that’s all she did.




And then, eventually, I began to do whole lines of letters, as you can see Mae doing above. Then, I would write the first letter and a part of the next so she could finish it off herself.


A friend told me recently that a gardening friend told them that the secret to a beautifully maintained garden was, ‘little and often’. I think  I say something similar in every blog post. We do handwriting every single day, in our house, until we can do it properly, which so far has been around the age of seven. But we only do a little. No more than ten minutes.

After Mae could actually form the joined letters by herself then she graduated on to the stage her siblings had gone straight to, which is, writing a sentence a day. Just one sentence. We do, ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ because it uses all the letters of the alphabet. And everything has to be formed correctly or the word is re-written, but it is only one, short, sentence.


She started by copying underneath my words but quickly memorised how to spell and form each word. She has been doing this for over a year now, just writing the sentence. Oh, and doing her spellings too, each child gets the same number of spellings as their age, so Mae gets five a week and can practise them how she likes, but in joined up. Here she is practising on her aqua-draw mat. It dries quickly but I can make out, ‘go’,  ‘to’ and ‘the’.


At five, Mae is now a confident writer. I don’t teach writing, just handwriting, the writing is what she chooses. Here are some of the letters she has written.


A letter to her pen-pal, Connie, in Australia. You will notice that she isn’t voluntarily joining but there are very few letter reversals.


This is a birthday card to her friend, Helena. It says, ‘To Helena, I am very happy to be coming to your party. Happy Birthday love Mae. Have a lovely birthday see you later.’


A letter to Auntie Jean. This makes me smile because the only word she has joined in the whole letter is her name. In fact,  I decided that she needed to be encouraged to join in her writing as she is perfectly capable of it so I said to her a couple of weeks ago that now it was the new year I thought she could start joining her letters like a big girl. I suggested that instead of writing, ‘The quick brown fox’ she wrote her own handwriting sentence and she was delighted with the idea, easily composing a couple of sentences about Peter Rabbit.


And then yesterday, for the first time, she handed me a note written in joined letters. ‘I still love you even when you get cross with me love Mae.’ (In case you’re wondering about context,  I wasn’t angry at the time, she is simply copying what I say to her: “I still love you, even though I’m angry…” It’s the way we emphasise our unconditional love even in the midst of behaviour management!)


We still haven’t taught her any writing techniques other than full stops, I’ll slip them in over time (hmm, another blog post I’m thinking…). Today, she wrote a song for her TV show (presented while sitting in a crate for some reason).


It says: ‘Flowers and roses, huh, huh, huh. Flowers and roses, huh, huh, huh…. Lots of treats, it will be rainy.’

And lots of lovely joined up writing in there. I feel a little like singing myself!

Dreaded Spellings

New school term here and Jude, age 7, is just going into year 3. I was so discouraged on giving him a spelling test to find that he’s practically forgotten everything he did last term. Sigh. He really struggles with remembering. It is unfortunate that Cana is like her father and has an almost photographic memory. Jude takes after me and well, I gave Cana some lines the other day and after she’d copied the same sentence fifty times, I realised I’d spelt one of the words incorrectly – ironically, the word was ‘inappropriate’. So no, spelling isn’t my thing either.

Chatting with a friend whose son is dyslexic, she mentioned she used a more kinaesthetic approach to his spellings which reminded me that we used to do this back when Jude was first learning to write. Now he’s a confident writer I had abandoned this and he just uses the ‘look, say, cover, write’ method to do his spellings. Clearly this has not been working and you know what they say about doing the same thing and expecting different results…

So, out came the old shaving foam and Jude started practising his spellings on the coffee table:

Shaving foam spelling practice

Shaving foam spelling practice

And then we dug out the sand tray:

Sand tray spellings

Sand tray spellings

This morning I tested him on his spellings and he got the first perfect score I think he’s ever had. We were both delighted. I set him a new lot for the week and he said, “Mummy, can I drum my spellings today?” I said, “Yep!” So he sat down at his homemade, Captain America, drumkit and started singing his spellings. I wonder how many creative ways of doing his spellings he’ll be able to come up with.

Drummed spellings

Drummed spellings

Left-handed and Struggling to Write

Well. after teaching my oldest two children to write pretty much the same way, my third and final child is not taking to it at all. She has just turned four and is unequivocally left handed, although orientation is commonly not settled even by the age children start school, Mae has been left hand dominant since she was pre-verbal. I am not left handed and neither are the other children so I don’t know how much of her struggle is related to her ‘handedness’. I suspect that it is, because although she is obviously not dyslexic, as her reading is good, she just can’t seem to get the hang of writing left to right, starting at the top of the letter, always doing a letter the same way… all of those fairly important things.

With my older children, I would teach them how to form a letter, they would trace over mine a few times and then I could talk them through how to form it, “start like a curly c, then up to the top and back down again, don’t forget your little flick to finish”. It was as simple as that. We would start with the letters of their name and then move onto their siblings’ names and then on to the rest of the alphabet in no particular order. Some letters make sense to teach first, like ‘c’ because it is the basis for ‘a’, and then ‘a’ leads on to ‘d’ and ‘g’ and ‘q’. Also, ‘h’ leads on to ‘b’ and ‘p’; ‘r’ leads to ‘m’ and ‘n’.

Mae is just not getting it. She can’t seem to make her hand follow the verbal instruction or even copy a letter that she has just done and it is frustrating for both of us. Just as an example, she has been writing her three letter name for some time but she has never got the hang of the letter ‘e’. As ‘e’ is one of the easiest letters to form I have found this perplexing.


Sooo, this is what we are doing. Going back a step and extending the step that the other two children seemed to hop over. Every day (and honestly, she loves doing this) she traces over my letters. We started with just a couple and we found that she preferred using a thick felt-tip or highlighter pen over my pencil drawn letter. After a few weeks of doing this I have found that if I draw the start of the letter, with the start point, then she is able to complete the letter if I talk her through it. It’s the start point that seems to be the problem. She is racing through the alphabet like this so we do the letters she knows and then add a new one when she feels comfortable.

href=””>Handwriting sheet, the dot indicates where the letter starts. Handwriting sheet, the dot indicates where the letter starts.[/caption]



Mae gets easily discouraged with her writing so I am trying to avoid setting her up for failure at any stage. If a letter is more difficult then I write the whole letter for her and gradually take away the end strokes of the letter over a few days. She is finding the letter ‘k’ very tricky at the moment but is very happy to trace and then do the end ‘kick out’ but everytime I try and take my support back a step she struggles… it’s a slow process. But my end goal is happy, confident writers so it’s extremely important that we don’t rush this.

Sheet showing the letter 'k'

[caption id="attachment_589" align="alignleft" width="490"]Sheet showing the letter k - this was one step too far for her so I had to draw in the extra bit and just leave the final 'kick' Sheet showing the letter k – this was one step too far for her so I had to draw in the extra bit and just leave the final ‘kick’

Mae likes to do three sheets of handwriting (A4). I’m not sure why this seems a good number for her but she will ask for more if she hasn’t done three. I’m pretty sure that my son would have been more than happy to stop at one at this stage. It doesn’t really matter as long as they are getting to repeat letters they know. Eventually, it will stick. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Happy Handwriting

Happy Handwriting

The Barber Institute of Fine Art (by Cana, age 7 and three quarters)

At the barber institute of fine arts we were looking at sculptures and the first sculpture we looked at was a nude sculpture of Aphrodite. The Goddess of love and we were looking at the sculpture and the guide said to the younger children if they wore clothes and one little boy said “ I normally wear a top and trousers and a vest and pants!” and the guide said with a little laugh “ha you can tell me more about that later.” She said in a kind voice and then we moved on to the next piece of art.


Alex Gr8

The next piece of art was a painting of Alexander the great, well, I don’t think he is very great because the guide said he chopped peoples heads off which is a bit gruesome so I am not going to go through all of the chopping part. So, I think somebody would want to know about this! As you can see in this picture Alexander the great is holding his arms in an unusual way. Our left hand side but his right hand is on his hip and his left hand but to us it is his right hand is drooping on his scabbard because it’s to show that he is very clever. And he doesn’t have a beard because in war people would grab your beard and then stab you, so he of course didn’t want to be killed so of course he shaved his beard, that was the good reason and now I will tell you the bad reason he wanted everyone to see his face so he was showing off.

hercules real

This nude person is called Hercules and his story starts off sad but ends up ok. So this is the story of Hercules, Hercules’s Daddy was called Zeus and Zeus was a god but Zeus was a very naughty god in fact he was so naughty that even though he had a wife he went down to earth and fell in love with another lady and his wife who was a goddess called Hiera was very cross she thought that Zeus was her husband but went and married another lady and had a baby with her. So she was very cross and so she wanted to kill baby Hercules so in the night she crept down to earth and threw some poisonous snakes into the cot and hoped that they would eat him up. But what she didn’t know was that Hercules was very strong and baby Hercules woke up and then played with the snakes and the guide thought that in Hercules’s head he might have been thinking“ Wow a new toy to play with!” so first he swung them round and round by their tails and then he found out that their tails rattled so he rattled them a lot and then let go so they went flying across the room over to the door and the snakes fled away from Hercules and when Zeus found out that Hiera had thrown poisonous snakes into Hercules’s cot he knew that she would come back so he hid Hercules until Hercules was a grown man obviously he went to university and college and school and nursery so he only did sitting inside his hiding place most of the time. When he was a fully grown man there was a Nemean lion attacking the people.

Herc n lion

Hercules came as quickly as possible and started to fight the Nemean lion he couldn’t do anything that included weapons because a Nemean lion has very tough skin so can you guess what Hercules did to kill the Nemean lion? Well if you said no I will tell you because I know what he did. Do you remember I told you that Hercules was really strong? Well he used his strength to do it he held open the Nemean lion’s mouth and the Nemean lion couldn’t breathe so he died.


This is a sculpture did you know that? And did you know that sculptures can be made out of anything? Well they can and do you know what my Mummy said to me about this sculpture? If that was a no then I will tell you right now
she said “A toddler could make that if they knew how to use a drill!” which, in my mind, is quite true. It’s quite a silly thing to make because chairs are for sitting on not to roll off onto the floor with! And who would want that thing in their house anyway? Certainly not me I think it’s quite ugly.

miss clara

This rhino is called Miss Clara and this is quite a nice and kind story. When Miss Clara was a baby some mean men came and killed her mummy and a Dutch man came along and found Miss Clara and felt really sorry for her and said “I can’t leave this poor Rhino here by herself” So he took her home not just in his back garden actually in his house like for example in his living room! This Dutch man was very kind and did you know that you could train Rhino’s? This is a photo of the Dutch man training Miss Clara he is probably saying sit to Miss Clara I told you, you could train Rhino’s! The Dutch man even taught Miss Clara how to eat off a plate! The Dutch man invited lots of ladies to tea and when they came and saw Miss Clara eating off a plate they screamed and ran as far as they could from the Dutch man and Miss Clara! Now, Miss Clara as you would know, grew and grew and did poo’s and poo’s and the Dutch man said to his friend “I love Miss Clara but her poo is everywhere and I don’t know how to pick it up so soon my house will be flooded with Rhino poo and I know that won’t be nice!” and his friend who was very nice said “don’t worry, I am taking a ship to England and I can take you and Miss Clara with me and you can show royal people Miss Clara!” And the Dutch man said “Thank you so much!” and he went straight to Miss Clara and told her every single word that his friend told him he was so excited, he had taught her how to dance by the way! And he danced with Miss Clara till it was tea-time! When the day arrived they got on the ship but it wasn’t a very good start because Miss Clara was sea sick! So when they got to England can you guess which Royal person she met first? Well I am going to tell you anyway she met Queen Victoria! And guess what she did in front of Queen Victoria! Now this you will laugh at she did a pile of poo in front of Queen Victoria! And did a pile of poo in front of the King of France too! In fact she did most of her poo’s in front of people! And the rest of her life she was just going around in and out people so I shouldn’t tell you just all about that!

(Editors note: After the tour of the Art gallery we took part in a workshop where we made our own rhino sculptures)


This is Jude my brother who made this Model Rhino and he is only 6 so I think it is quite good for his age don’t you think so?


Now can you see the big photo of a girl with a model rhino well she is my sister and she is only 3 and she partly made that all by herself! Can you believe it!


Now this other photo of a girl is me the one who told you all these stories about Aphrodite and, Alexander the great and, Hercules and a kind of story of the chair with wheels on the seat and, Miss Clara and now I had just shown you the photos of my brother and sister and now I have come round to me now I will introduce myself my name is Cana and my sister is called Mae and my brother if you didn’t know is called Jude and I am 7 and everyone there made their own model rhino and it was actually quite fun making models!

Teaching Writing – Letter Reversals

Just wanted to write a quick post about letter reversals because looking at Jude’s recent writing showed that he is still occasionally doing it at the age of six. My boy loves writing his own stories, he has suddenly taken to producing these books with stories in. This is his first little book, which he made by himself a few weeks ago…


Five scraps of paper (about 7cm square) stapled together, with illustrations of course.


I have lots of old notebooks or partially used school books so he writes in those now and recently spent a long time composing a story for my birthday, all his own idea by the way. Obviously, when your child makes you a gift you can’t point out mistakes, however much my teacher brain winced at the sight of the mix of upper and lower case letters on the front and back covers and the fact that he had reversed the letter P. I wrote a while ago about how introducing the Letterland characters helped him with this when he was initially learning his letters as they have a ‘story’ about how to form each one. He can usually remember that Bouncy Ben has tall sticking up ears but when we write Dippy Duck we stroke her back first. Here is Jude’s book cover…


…yes, this wonderful work of fiction really is entitled “Helen’s grump”! And here is the back…


Love the little self-portrait on the back, showing off his afro, while I look a bit like Voldemorte on the front. Anyway, after pretending to be impressed with the cover, I really was pleased with the writing inside. Of course it’s not the best six year old writing I’ve seen, but considering it was independent and I haven’t been pushing writing much this year at all as he seems to like it and I don’t want to ruin that… considering all that I was delighted to see, apart from clear evidence he is using his phonics (he does phonics online and has six spellings a week to learn which is also his handwriting practise) he has joined almost all of his letters and look – no reversals!


It is possible to reverse joined letters but it is much less likely as the join becomes part of the letter. I worked in a school this week where the nursery children were learning joined letters, in inner-city Birmingham too, it really does work and I would bet that if he wasn’t joining he would be reversing a whole lot more.

Jude’s idea of sentences is still a bit shaky and he hasn’t got the whole capital letter thing sorted as you can tell by the next page…


I’m just giving him the tools as and when he needs them, without pushing. He loves writing stories and he is confident enough to sound out pretty much any word, and if it looks wrong then he asks me and then changes it (on the first page you can see where he wrote ‘grumpee’ and changed it after asking me). It’s like coaxing a flame to life, this writing, gently feeding in ideas without extinguishing his enthusiasm. I think it was a pretty amazing birthday present!

One Thousand Gifts – shared writing (Cana, age 7, and Mummy)

We are doing the One Thousand Gifts challenge, Cana and I. Finding One Thousand things to be thankful for. Ann Voskamp wrote a book about her own attempt, it made the New York Times Bestseller List, and, more importantly for me, it won my own Book of the Year award last year.

Everyday,after we’ve read a bit of whatever it is we are reading together (just finished Little White Horse by Elisabeth Goudge and starting on White Boots by Noel Streatfeild) we think about the things we are most thankful for. It probably makes very boring reading, our shared talking and writing, but it’s a fun thing to do with your children. We only started last week so here are our first twenty-five… only, erm…nine hundred and seventy five to go…

Weds, Feb 5th
1. I am thankful today for snuggles with my son in bed this morning, his sweet curly head tickling my nose.
2. I am thankful for my big girl who reached silently over and took my hand in her slim, brown one. She told me afterwards she was praying for me.
3. I am thankful for my three year old who prayed for her godmother today who is very ill in hospital, “Thank you for Auntie Sue to get better again – no Jude, don’t interrupt me – in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
4. As I walked past the reservoir tonight in the wind and the twilight, I saw that the water was covered with white gulls which rocked on the waves and wheeled in the air just above the water, their white wings changing to black as they swooped above the skyline and were silhouetted against the dark grey sky. The wind was too loud in my ears to hear them at first, but as I stood and watched them I could just make out their faint calls, wild and free in the half-light.
5. And for old friends who care about my children and send them parcels in the post.
Thurs Feb 6th
6. I am thankful for muffins and strawberry jam
7. And ice-cold milk which tastes so delicious with muffins and strawberry jam.
8. For Mama because she is the best godmother in the world.(Cana)
9. For the warmth of distant friends and their kind words online.
Fri, Feb 7th
10. I’m thankful that we don’t drink dirty water like the children in some other countries.(Cana)
11. I’m thankful for Christian’s nice warm back in bed, last night I dreamt I was lying on a bench with my back tucked up against the back of the bench, it made me feel all safe, and when I woke up the back of the bench turned into Christian’s back, solid and warm against mine.
12. I was so thankful today at the park to see some crumpled leaves bursting out of the end of some bare twigs like flames of green in the bright sunlight. I could suddenly believe that Spring would come, not yet, but soon.
13. It’s a lovely feeling, when you discover a book you haven’t yet read by a favourite author, for that I am thankful indeed!
14. For the ‘mothers’ I have been given in my life (Debs and Vonny), who are grandmothers to my children and who bless us so often with their practical love.
Sat, Feb 8th
15. I am thankful, that on this cold, windy day, we have a deliciously warm house to come back to. Having lived in a few large, draughty houses, our snug little dwelling seems an especial blessing on a day like today.
16. I am thankful for my husband and children on a rare family evening together watching a film.
17. I am thankful that I met another new neighbour at drama today.(Cana)
18. I am thankful that we can choose whatever we want for tea, it feels like a luxury.
Sun, Feb 9th
19. Every night, before I get into bed I have the delicious job of going from bed to bed to check on each of my sleeping children. The oldest lies like Sleeping Beauty, her face serene in the lamp-light, breathing lightly. My boy is always twisted up in his duvet, I have to excavate him, unearth his tousled head from under piles of pillows. He is always, unsurprisingly, flushed with warmth, his long dark lashes fanned out on his pink cheeks. The little one is usually in my bed and she always lies sideways so that she takes up the maximum amount of space and normally in an unnaturally contorted position – her back arched and her arms flung out on either side. In sleep she is immovable, her chubby little body planted on the bed, a dead weight to move. If you shift her to make room for your own body, she moves back and lies against or on top of you, heavily. How blessed I am. Every night I get into bed, smiling a little and feeling incredibly rich.
Mon, Feb 10th
20. I am thankful for our new rocking horse, Periwinkle. She rocks better than any other horse I’ve been on. (Cana)
Tues, Feb 11th
21. We are thankful for snow this morning, well, not my husband because he works for a travel company and the British Transport system is renowned for being throw into chaos by a millimetre of snow, but the children and I. We were woken by squeals of excitement this morning.
22. I am thankful for the sound of running water, which was everywhere in the park this afternoon as the snow melts into the swollen stream.
23. I am thankful for bright winter sunlight that dazzles the eyes, sparkling on the water drops on all the twig-tips.
24. I am thankful for Vivienne’s delicious cake at Cake-church. (Cana)
25. I am thankful that mummy let me take my Spider Man to cake-church.(Jude)