Literacy and Numeracy with Poo

How can something so innocuous be the source of so much pain and suffering?

How can something so innocuous be the source of so much pain and suffering?

Well, despite all my misgivings (see posts one and two on potty training), the Boy has had a breakthrough with the potty and seems to be as sorted as you can be when you’re three.

So, of course you will now want to know: what was the secret? What made him decide to abandon the easy life of weeing and pooing where you stand, to having to go and take your trousers off and sit on an uncomfortable receptacle, followed by wiping and hand washing and all sorts of things that take you away from doing what you want for absolutely AGES?

Two things: chocolate and numbers.

This should not have been a surprise, really. From when he was tiny, the Boy has always been easily pacified and distracted by food, and, well, you all know about his obsession with numbers. We have yet to find anything that isn’t made better by adding numbers into the mix.

This is what we did:


1. Bribery: All the left over chocolate coins in the Boy’s birthday treasure chest were pressed into service as a reward for doing wees in the potty – TWO for a poo, as this was proving to be more of a challenge, just as Pirate Pete had said it would. The Boy soon cottoned on, and would come running in from a trip to the potty shouting: “One gold coin, Mummy!” He did struggle, however, to understand that it wasn’t so much the presence of a deposit in the potty that earned the coin as where it had originally been deposited. All too often he would poo in his pants, tip the poo into the potty and come and demand double rewards. (My apologies if you are eating while reading this, but then it’s your own fault, the word ‘poo’ in the title should have tipped you off)

DSCF45862. Reward chart with numbers: When the gold coins ran out, I switched to a sticker chart. This proved surprisingly popular. I thought he’d like it less as it drastically reduced the treat-frequency, but as it turned out numbers were more exciting even than chocolate. I drew ten footsteps per row, numbered them and ended each row with a star. The first two stars were some kind of edible treat and the third star was a small present (eg. a little wind up ladybird from Mothercare @ £1). He again earned one sticker for a wee and two for a poo. “Number 3, Mummy!” he would shout elatedly while pressing a sticker onto the footstep, “seven footsteps to go!” He was doing subtraction without breaking a sweat. We went through three of these charts before I just quietly didn’t make another and he didn’t ask after it.

3. Poo numbers and letters: By this time, the number of floor puddles had reduced to zero and he had stopped soiling his underwear. Poos were still an issue, though, and every other day we would have almost non-stop potty trips trying to get shy faeces to come out, until in desperation I just left his trousers off. It worked. He came running up to me in triumph, mostly naked, saying: “Come and see Mummy! I made a J for Judith!” In trepidation, I went to have a look. Resting neatly inside the potty, was a massive long poo, with a curve at the bottom. It was, in fact, a J. He hadn’t touched it with his hands, it had just come out like that. This moment marked a turning point for the Boy. Poo was no longer scary. Poo was a new opportunity to spot numbers and letters in every day life. I am now regularly called in to admire a “number 1” or an “opposite 7” (backwards) or a “letter R: down, up, round and FLICK!” (thanks, Squigglet). A slightly unorthodox method of learning to read, I believe, or even to potty train, but it works for The Boy.

So there you have it. The Boy appears to be mostly potty trained. It took about 6 weeks from the Day of Constant Puddles to now. The lessons I have learned from this would be, firstly, that the key to successful potty training is owned by each child themselves and has something to do with their character and special interests (really not rocket science, I guess) and secondly, that the key to successful literacy and numeracy teaching is, of course, poo.


Write your own poetry

On Tuesday mornings I go to a lovely parenting group in my local area. The aim is to give busy parents a bit of peace and that is exactly what I get from it: we stick the kids in the creche and enjoy a couple of hours of tea and adult conversation. When it first started, we had in depth discussions on parenting issues that troubled us, sometimes even with visiting speakers. Slowly, our program started to lean more towards just chilling out and doing fun things, and this year we have started taking turns sharing our skills with the group. There has been crochet, earring and bracelet making, calligraphy, cake decorating and many more strange and wonderful things.

This week it was my turn, so of course I did a poetry workshop. We wrote shopping lists and turned them into poems, described a friend and wrote rhymes to accompany Christmas presents.

I asked if anyone was willing to share what they wrote with the wider world, and three of the women kindly obliged:


by Sam

She bursts through the door with her serious face,
her hands moving all over the place.
A little irate she feels this morning
as so far the day has been quite boring.
It doesn’t take long for a smile to appear
She really is funny, it’s just not that clear.

Long Lost Friend

by POG

In the pub car park.
Reading my book.
Ah, now here’s the text,
“Sorry, running late”.
A car speeds in.
A flash of bright scarf.
Haven’t seen for years
But just the same.

My Small Companion

by ACB

Our special time
Protected space
Your cheeky grin

A pile of books
My welcome lap
Quietly sucking fingers

Just one more book
Persistent plea
My boundary pusher

Finish my sentence
Faces, funny voices
My entertainer

My small companion

My own poem describing a friend is about the lovely woman who runs and supports the Tuesday group. If you are reading this, we all love you and really appreciate everything you give to us.

Selfless Centre

Through the door
we walk, she stands
a cup of tea for you in her hands
Thoughtful, she asks:
“How was the night?
Did your daughter sleep alright?”
She remembers and she cares

We craft we chat
We moan we laugh
And she is there
Listening always
Tactful, fair,
She treasures everything we share.

We say goodbye at the door
and only in the car
– key in the ignition – do I recall
I did not ask about her
at all.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Write your own poetry: Try this at home!

If you want to have a go at writing a poem about a friend, even if you have never written anything before in your life, try this:

1. Think of someone you know. Write down about 8 key words to describe them. Those can be character traits, catch phrases they say all the time, a hobby you share, a place you associate with them.

2. Look at your keywords and try to cull them down to 5. Cross out any words that are too similar to another key word, or that you think don’t really fit with the rest.
My key words for our lovely group leader were:


3. Give your five word poem a title. Avoid using the name of the person you are describing. Instead, try and think of a word or phrase that sums them up – or at least the image of them that you are portraying in your poem. I chose “Selfless Centre”, to sum up the idea that came out of the words that our friend is always at the centre of the group, supporting us without asking for anything back.

4. Now use these five words as a draft, a basis for writing something new. Think of a situation you can see your friend in – real or imagined. Describe the situation in a poem, so that it expresses the same image of your friend. In my poem, as you can see, I express the concepts of welcoming, serving, supporting and so on by painting a picture of what she does on a Tuesday morning in a very concrete way. In her poem, Sam managed to literally work most of her original words (eg. irate, serious, funny) into her description of her friend and POG has very simply but effectively sketched herself waiting to meet an old friend.

Have a go! You could even post what you write in the comments below…

Read poetry from other bloggers over at Prose for Thought, hosted by Victoria Welton.

Life Game Level 1: Caught a Bug

Hey Gamers,

Selfie in bathrobe

Selfie in bathrobe

Well, I’m ill. Yup. And it turns out that when your health bar is in the red, your happiness bar plummets too – who knew? And to think all this time I’ve been laughing at the Mummy if she lies down on the sofa in the middle of the day groaning, trying to sleep through Numberjacks. I just thought she was putting on some alternative entertainment for me and my job was to tickle her or shout ‘Boo!’ (my new word). Boy was I wrong. I feel like lying down on the sofa and doing groaning myself now, except when I do I just roll off and fall onto the floor = lose more health points = more unhappiness.

I don’t even know how it happened. One minute I was minding my own business, munching on some play dough and reading The Vision of Piers Plowman (don’t bother: it has no pictures, no flaps to lift or buttons with sounds to press) and the next I had this horrible, screen-shaking cough and a raging fever. Also, snot. Lotsa snot.

But as you know, I am by nature a glass-half-full kind of girl, so I thought I’d draw some helpful lessons from my misfortune to help other gamers. So here is my

Level 1 Illness of Doom Walk-through

How to recognise if you’ve got the Bug.
It’ll be pretty obvious. You get minuses to all your skills: walking, balance, climb, manipulating objects, common sense, perception. You’ll fall over a lot more. You’ll fail spot checks on tasty forgotten treats lying on the floor under the table, or if you do spot them, the penalties to all your skills will mean you can’t get to them before the Mummy sweeps them up. And like I said: massive drain on your happiness. Things that otherwise fill up your happiness bar only making tiny deposits now, or they just make you cry. Yes, even TV. Even Dolly or Baby Bear!

That’s another thing: crying. I seem to be permanently stuck on Cry. Basically, I do a fairly constant Whine, which turns into Cry for almost any reason and escalates to Wail when the Mummy moves further than an inch away from me.

Benefits of the Bug
Ha! Bet you weren’t expecting that, eh? Yes, I have discovered that there are some benefits to the Illness of Doom. I mean, why would it be in the game if it didn’t either give you some new skills or entertain you in some way? Here is what I have found:

* Middle of the night cuddles with all your favourite people: the Illness increases the frequency of Night Waking. Nothing special there, I’m a pro at that already, but the great thing about the Bug is it switches off the Sleep Training Techniques and ensures constant hugs and cuddles instead. Bonus!

* Unlocks new entertainment options: when you’ve got the Bug your stamina for night time crying increases seven-fold, and if you keep up the whining and crying for a very long time, you wear down the Mummy and Daddy’s resistance to the point where they take you downstairs and let you cuddle up with them on the sofa, watch the West Wing and play with their iPhones. Also, if you do Grin and Chatter, they will exclaim about how cute you are and let you stay even longer. Word of warning, you do have to be very persistent with your crying. And exaggerate the cough as much as you can. Also, it’s worth standing up every time the Adult tries to leave the room. Basically, it’s an Easter Egg. I’m not sure what the right combination of crying, standing and coughing is but just mash the buttons and eventually you will get to watch the West Wing I promise.

Although there are some advantages, generally the Illness is a pain in the bottom. Here are the things that seem to help the Happiness and the Health bar creep up again:

These are the items you need to find. Use spoon with bottle, then give the combination to The Mummy.

These are the items you need to find. Use spoon with bottle, then give the combination to The Mummy.

* Being held and hugged constantly. Constantly. Don’t let the Mummy put you down for even a second. It does slow down the arrival of food and the environment bar gets minus points, but the most important thing is that you are happy.

* Pink medicine. This magic potion can be found all over the house on shelves, in cupboards, on tables. If you want it to work, though, you need to use the potion with a special spoon and you need the Mummy to pour it into your mouth. Instant health points.

* Go into the bathroom after one of the other players has used the shower. This slows the cough and means you get more time to stock up on health points.

* Sleep. Frequent short stretches boost your health bar most.

* And finally: the Topsy and Tim theme tune, particularly the bit where Topsy waves her arms in the air to catch bubbles. If you wave your own arms in the air at the same time you get +4 happiness.

HTH if you find yourself struck down by the Bug yourself. How are you all doing, btw? I notice quite a few of you have finished the training levels now and are also Level 1. What new skills have you got? Discovered any new objects to interact with or areas to explore? Let me know and I’ll get on it once I’ve beaten this wretched bug.

love & kisses

The Girl

PS I’ve heard lots of other gamers have left handy and interesting hints on Life Game here on Vic Welton’s blog.

Is my son a foreigner?

photocopierSo I am back in the ESOL* classroom after a three year hiatus and it is all coming back to me. Teaching my pre-intermediate group of immigrants is affecting me a little like looking after The Girl did in the early days. Not that they’re ringing me up in the middle of the night demanding food, but I am having a similar slow dawning of recognition: oh yes, this is what newborns/ESOL students do and need. These were the resources I used to use. This is how I solved this problem before.

One example is the mistakes they make. Each student has his or her own typical grammar errors:

“They have catch him,” says the Polish student.

“They are travel on a road,” says the Tamil speaker.

“Yesterday, I write a list and do shopping,” says my Brazilian student.

“It’s in pront of the college” says my Indonesian student.

Oh yes, I think. Pre-intermediate students may be learning about story telling in the past, but that doesn’t mean they have got all their present tenses sorted. Oh yes, I remember. I should pay attention to each student’s pronunciation difficulties and spend some time on that. I diagnose, I make notes, plan lessons. I think of ways to help them learn to use verb tenses correctly and improve their pronunciation of bilabial fricatives (‘f’ and ‘v’ to you).

But why does this all sound so familiar, even after three years’ break?

“Mummy, I need to go to toilet!” the Boy interrupts my lesson planning. I get up to help him. “NO! Mummy not come too. I go by myself.”

I find myself making a mental note: he is not using auxiliary verbs to form negatives.

A shout reaches me downstairs: “Come and see, Mummy. I did a wee wee!”

He earns a sticker for his sticker chart, and by dinner time the stickers have added up to an ice cream for dessert. The Boy is covered head to toe in sticky vanilla goo – he is in heaven.

“I’m love Megan White,” he tells me. I’ve given up trying to get him to say Magnum. The dark ones he calls: Chocolate Megan Whites. But besides this pronunciation issue I am also diagnosing an issue with present simple/present continuous confusion. I compare it in my head to his announcement to strangers before his birthday: “I going be three!” Definitely a bit of a mix up happening there.

Daddy gets home just before bedtime. There are hugs. Daddy also gets covered in ice cream.

“What did you do today?” Daddy wants to know.

“Going children’s centre. And play with Nebecca.”

Past tense, I think to myself. Understanding, yes. Using, no. Also, pronunciation of alveolar approximant.

Slowly it is beginning to dawn on me: my son is a pre-intermediate ESOL student. He would fit right in to my evening class. Have I just stumbled on a point in time where my son’s experience of Child Language Acquisition just happens to intersect the Second Language Acquisition that my students are going through?

Then there are times like this evening, when we play a game before bedtime. “I’m going to choose this one,” he says, picking up a card. “Your turn, Mummy. I can pass it to you.” He startles me then with his beautiful sentences. There may be similarities, there may be an intersection here, but the Boy is 3, not 33. His brain is designed to refine those grammar points and pronunciation issues in record time. He is soaking up idioms and phrases. He hears them once or twice, then puts them to use in real life. He is fearless. Not afraid to make mistakes, never embarrassed, he jumps right in to have a go. None of the inhibitions of an adult immigrant plague him. Before we know it he’ll be eating Magnums, while we grown ups still fondly refer to them as megan whites, clinging on to that endearing pidgin English of the toddler years.

And my students will probably still be saying “I’m like”.

Is my son a foreigner? In a way, yes he is. A fairly new arrival in the adult world, still working out how the game is played. Also, he is half Dutch.

But I think he’d get bored pretty quickly in my evening class.

ice cream

Who could get excited about an evening that does not include desserts??

*ESOL = English for Speakers of Other Languages

Night-waking continues

I have lost count of the number of poems I have written about sleep. Here’s another one about my daughter’s uncanny ability to wake up just when I am about to crawl into bed, whatever time that is.

Sneaking, Sleeping

Ten, eleven, midnight, three
Soft-stockinged tred
can’t fool me
ears prick up:
Mummy is going to bed.
No no not yet

Your cry cuts through night
and wall and tinny
receiver, flashing green
your need to be heard
and held and seen.

Bundled in bedding
zipped and buttoned
twisted up and bleary
teary eyed you
“ney ney ney” and
“dee dee” and “mama”
with outstretched arms.

I hold we sway
you suck your fingers
snug then arching
out of arms,
your cuddle collected
you want back to bed
and sleeping sound –

but if I dare to
crab-creep to the
chink of light
to freedom and my bed-
if I dare to make a sound
so small
you grumble then protest and wail
and stay!
I have to stay.

Once more we sway.
My eyelids drooping,
knees buckling under
weight of sleep.

On we circle round this track
on and on and back
in the deep night’s black
until your breathing
sucking stops
limbs relax.

I tiptoe out and
creep to bed.
So softly do I tred
you cannot
have heard me
this time round
I made

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Read more original poetry by other bloggers here.

Birthday Joy

The Boy and The Girl’s birthdays are two weeks apart. Believe me, we were in no way able to plan it like that – it just happened. The Boy had already gate-crashed Gran’s birthday (the day after his), at the same time jumping in between our wedding anniversary, Daddy’s birthday and his uncle’s birthday in the same month. The Girl joined another busy month with Oma’s birthday, Opa and Oma’s wedding anniversary and now little Emilie’s birthday. Basically, autumn is a non-stop roller coaster of cake, presents and unusually fun activities. By the time Christmas was over and done with last year, the Boy had begun to assume that cake and chocolate were just part of our staple diet and that presents should be expected at any moment.

This year was a special birthday year.

The Girl turned 1. Inconceivable, still. That tiny little wrinkled thing, now sitting up in her highchair, stuffing her face with cake. Pointing and exclaiming and walking. The Boy was involved in all the preparations: we made cupcakes together and he chose her a present. It was perfect: a pink shape sorter bus with rattly shapes. He also helped pick her a card and wrote his name on it (read: held the pencil while I moved his hand). The Girl seemed very pleased with the attention. The unwrapping was interesting, but she was rather indifferent to her new toys – which was fortunate as the Boy had clearly been waiting for weeks to get his hands on that shape sorter bus and made off with it as soon as it came out of the box. The cake, however, was a definite hit. The look on her face was priceless: her mouth ringed with sugary icing, her birthday dress sprinkled with crumbs, her eyes slightly accusing: “Mummy, you kept this from me for a year!” She set about making up for lost time.

Cupcakes, ready for the big day.

Cupcakes, ready for the big day.

Pretty birthday dress

Pretty birthday dress

Two weeks later, the Boy turned 3. We had kept his first and second birthdays small, on the assumption that he probably wouldn’t remember them (and also because we were new-baby-zombies last year), but for his third birthday we decided it was party time. His excitement about Swashbuckle inspired us to book our church hall and plan a rip-roaring pirate adventure.

This was the first time he could anticipate his birthday. For weeks beforehand he would want to know how many more sleeps until his birthday. He would announce to strangers: “I going be three!” and then inform them how old Mummy and Daddy were for good measure. He would ask me out of the blue: “Is my birthday?” “No,” I’d have to say sadly, “Not yet. But soon.” We talked about  his pirate party and who would be coming – basically all his friends. At one point, I asked him: “And who will be at your party?” “Gran,” he said. “Opa, Oma, Cassie – and the Numberjacks.” For a moment I was worried that perhaps we should have done a Numberjacks themed party instead, and that perhaps he would be disappointed, but I shook that off and carried on looking for shiny jewels on eBay.

When the day arrived, he drank it all in. Gran and Opa and Oma came over to do presents at home, then we dashed off to have a very hurried lunch and from there to the hall to get things ready for the party. Then, it was Swashbuckle time. Instead of boring you with a blow by blow account, I want to highlight the three top Magic Moments of this magical day – three moments where the look of awe and wonder and joy on our little boy’s face almost brought a tear to Mummy and Daddy’s eyes.

1. The moment he unwrapped Gran’s present and realised that the Numberjacks had come to his party.

Only way to keep him interested in the other presents: show each gift to the Numberjacks

Only way to keep him interested in the other presents: show each gift to the Numberjacks

Although Gran had actually bought him something else for his birthday, as an afterthought she got him three cuddly Numberjacks: 3, 4 and 5. As soon as he saw them, the Boy was in love. They have not left his side since. Every time we go out, he decides which Numberjack is going out on the mission. They are the first to have a wee in the morning before the Boy himself gets on the toilet, they watch him have a bath and they cuddle up with him at night. His joy is complete. Well, almost complete. Teddy has recently been renamed Numberjack 6 – we think it might be a hint for Christmas…

2. The moment he realised that he was in his very own episode of Swashbuckle.

Captain Sinker leads a game of Pin the Eye Patch on the Pirate

Captain Sinker leads a game of Pin the Eye Patch on the Pirate

In my party preparations I had included some Swashbuckle-style games, like dressing up a pirate and having a ‘Shipwreck Rummage’, i.e. a treasure hunt around the hall to find gold coins and jewels. That was where I had stopped, however. I thought that would do quite nicely. But when my theatre/film director husband asked for the details of the running order, he said it would not do. “It needs to be a proper



episode of Swashbuckle. You are Captain Sinker. I’ll be Line. Your Dad can be Cook. You need to tell the children they are going to win S’s jewels back by playing the games. Then they get to put them in the treasure chest. Put a bit of theatre into it!” And so it was done. When I put on the massive pirate captain’s hat and led the children in the Swashbuckle Salute, the look on our Boy’s face was priceless. He really was on Swashbuckle.

3. The moment with the cake.

The Boy loves singing Happy Birthday. At every birthday party it is the bit he looks forward to the most. We even have to sing it for characters in books, like Topsy and Tim. And when he gets to the end, he always blows out an imaginary candle on an imaginary cake. At his party, the lights went out, the pirate candles were lit and the cake was brought in. His little face, by the light of the candles, as the cake approached him, and he knew it was for him, and it was his special day, and the pirate cake was his – that I will not forget in a hurry.

Pirate Cake: blue icing for the sea, foam pirate ship put together by Z

Pirate Cake: blue icing for the sea, foam pirate ship put together by Z

All in all, the kids’ birthdays were a big success. I was a little worried about planning a party for 12 small people, but I think it went well and I am already thinking about what a Number Party might look like next year – with the Numberjacks in attendance, of course, as the guests of honour.



Virtual Birthday and Clip Show

Happy 1st birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit

Happy 1st birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit

I realised today that I missed my blog’s first birthday. It was a few days ago I think. Although I am a little late, I didn’t want to let this milestone gone by unmarked, and so I present you with the dreaded “clip show” episode. You know the one: you sit down with a mug of tea and some biscuits/chocolate/crisps/cake to enjoy your favourite show, and instead of a proper story you get little snippets of episodes gone by to remind you of what has gone before. Annoying, right? Well, buckle up because this is a ‘greatest hits’, if you will – the best, most relevant, most ignored or most read of Secrets of the Sandpit. Celebrate its birthday with me by taking a look around and reminiscing on the first year of my blog’s life. May there be many more!

Sandpit. Best thing ever.

Sandpit. Best thing ever.

So, to start at the very beginning, you can read my very first post here, in which I explain what the “sandpit” is all about. A year ago when I started this blog, the Boy would express his extreme excitement about The Best Things Ever by exclaiming “sandpit!”. In fact, if you look in the side bar you can see my running log of things that elicited this response over the past year. Faithful readers will have noticed that the list stopped growing about six months ago. He has sadly grown out of “sandpit!” and now just tells us “love-a guinea pigs” or “That’s a fun filled fest!” for special occasions. He has grown up so much over the past year, and his language has developed massively. I marvel every day at how long his sentences are getting and how complex, at his awareness of his own bilingual-ness and his ability to express his emotions in words. My Boy is three and is becoming a whole grown up little person.

My blog has changed over the past year as well. Like most people, I started writing with only a vague idea of what the ‘flavour’ would be. It began as a more durable log of funny things the Boy had said and done, not wanting all his best material to get swallowed up by Facebook. In fact, sometimes my posts were actually no more than a slightly longer status update.

Soon themes began to emerge, though:

* The Girl, who is only a month older than Secrets of the Sandpit, inspired me to  share the reality of breastfeeding in the hope of helping other Mums who were having a very tough start but nevertheless wanted to carry on, as well as pregnant women who wanted to be properly prepared.

* I started using my blog to follow my Boy’s language development, especially how he was coping with growing up bilingual.

* I also began a monthly children’s book review, as a way of sharing my love for children’s literature. The first one is here but you can read the others by clicking on ‘Children’s books‘ in the menu at the top. Keep an eye out for the next instalment this coming Monday!

* Then I went a little bit crazy and decided to reinvent education, which I got so excited about that I started a whole separate blog about it called Clean Slate. As The Caterpillar says in Alice in Wonderland, you should start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.

* Thursday became poetry day courtesy of Prose for Thought. It has become one of the highlights of my week, turning my thoughts on family, sleeplessness, changes, identity, God and Weetabix into poetry, experimenting with form, verse and imagery.

* Other voices turned up and wanted to put their two cents in, like the Boy on play, the cats on the rules of the house and the Girl, updating us on the l33t skills she is learning in Life Game.

A year in, how is Secrets of the Sandpit doing in the playground? Well, like her author, she is not the most popular kid in school, but she has a group of faithful, close friends she hangs out with on play dates and sleepovers, that she can turn to for advice and pass notes to in class when the teacher isn’t looking. She also had one amazing day of fame when my Guide to Cbeebies was picked as Mumsnet blog of the day and a gazillion people dropped by to read it.

So happy birthday, Secrets of the Sandpit! I look forward to what the next year will bring.

Thanks for the cake, it was deeeeeeeelicious.

Thanks for the cake, it was deeeeeeeelicious.

Meet all my blog-friends over at Vic Welton’s place for her weekly Post Comment Love.