Our beautiful baby daughter Anabelle was born sleeping June 2010.
Blessed with the screaming arrivals of our gorgeous rainbow sons,
Alexander October 2011, Zachary November 2013 and Lucas July 2016.

After Anabelle - Raising Rainbows
Heartbreak. Joy. Death. Life. But most of all Love.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

If Mummy Had Written Your School Report

Your first school report is a rite of passage isn’t it, the start of a long journey through education – Nursery to Tertiary (and beyond) – so the saying goes.

Xander’s first school progress report came home last week. His teacher has made some really lovely comments about him in her comment box and it is clear he is settled, happy and doing well in school – ‘confident, content and happy and a pleasure to have in class’ and at three years old, and a ‘rising three’ at that, that is all I want for him, and from him.

However, after his teacher’s comment box, his report suddenly becomes very ‘cold’, a computer generated tick box exercise. So very different to the reports I myself write for my pupils in the special school system. This is no slight on his school, or his teacher, I have a lot of time for her and her evident enthusiasm in that classroom. I’m impressed with the environment and provision provided and have no concerns that play isn’t top of their agenda. I also know most mainstream schools have a generic reporting format computer input system that have to be used to generate these tick box style reports. 

She told me as much yesterday and to take the most notice of her comment box; but for someone who knows early year’s education as well as I do, it reads like the foundation phase curriculum with his name in front of achieved skills and then formulated into key sentences.

My little boy has been reduced to nothing more than a list of what skills he has demonstrated during his time in school; no real context, background, what his favourite school experiences have been or an element of his personality in it at all.

And that makes me sad, not just for Xander, but for a whole generation of small children, seemingly going through a mainstream education system forced by a Westminster Government to lose the holistic value of a developing child, teaching to a tick list instead. A Westminster Government that measures a child’s worth and success by how many ticks they have, or the levels and grades on a piece of paper they have, or eventually the letters they could have after their name. A Westminster Government who seemingly thinks there is only one way to be successful to the detriment of so many of our children, setting so many up to fail before they even begin. A Westminster Government constantly changing the goal posts of what successful is and where trying your very best is no longer good enough.  Things are not as bad here as they are the other side of the Severn Bridge, but even with a devolved education our profession has not been immune to these changes and pressures and testing approach being foisted from the likes of Gove and Morgan.

Sorry I went off an a ranty tangent there, but regardless, this has driven me to ‘rewrite’ his school report; to put some meat on the bones of those skills, to highlight what came across as his favourite parts of school this year and where I believe he can do more as this small three-year-old boy than his report would have him believe when he reads it with adult eyes.

I don’t just want to know what he can do as far as a skill sheet would tell me, I want to know what he has enjoyed, what topics were his favourite, what activities he really got involved in. What parts of learning excite him, what are his passions? What he LOVED about school. Learning of course is important, but it isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of a child’s experience of education. Life is much more than grades and my child is so much more than a skill tick sheet, my child is a little bundle of personality and the journey matters as much as the learning outcome.

And so as an aside I’m so glad he’ll have my six monthly updates of his childhood to look back on too.

The purple is his school report, the red is my ‘teacher speak’ addition... The blessings and curses of a teacher for a mother I guess! 

Personal and Social Development, Well-Being and Cultural Diversity
Xander is beginning to show he knows about familiar care routines, and when an adult is assisting him with his every day personal needs he is often keen to help. Xander is beginning to have his own ideas about what he would like to wear, for example making it clear he thinks boxer shorts are even more grown up than pants! He likes to be involved in choosing his clothes, and his baby brothers clothes and understands what type of clothes are appropriate for different times of the day or weather, e.g. pyjamas for bedtime, shorts for a hot day, coats for a rainy day etc. Xander needs to be encouraged to dress and undress himself with more independence. 

Xander is becoming ever increasingly independent using the toilet and understands basic personal hygiene care routines such a flushing the toilet and washing his hands afterwards. He understands the importance and boundaries of keeping safe in some situations for example why he must always wear his seatbelt properly in the car, or holding hands with an adult to cross a road or walk in a car park. 

He has begun to role play on his own or in parallel with other children, often near a familiar adult. Xander thoroughly enjoys small world play and often plays with small figurines from his busy books, Happyland and Duplo sets, reciting aloud his imaginative dialogue during his play. His little people are often Mummies, Daddies and babies, but also firemen, superhero and rescue men. He loves playing with his Happyland Castle, Rocket, Farm and Dollhouse. Xander is beginning to enjoy dressing up and pretend play more and often asks for us to play Doctors and patients with him.

He is starting to show affection for other children and play with them. When supported by an adult, Xander is just learning to be willing to share toys and materials and to take turns. He is beginning to learn that some behaviour is unacceptable. Xander has developed firm friendships in school but is still learning to navigate the social complexities of these friendships and the reality that not everybody is very kind all of the time. Friendships and relationships are clearly linked to his emotions at the moment as his favour with you is demonstrated through your status of being  ‘you’re my best friend’ or ‘you’re not my best friend anymore’ declarations! 

Xander has a definite sense of self and belonging and is aware which group he is part of at school (Peppa Pig group) and his part in his family at home. He knows who else is part of his family.Just recently Xander stated that he had lots of friends and lots of family and had everything he needed. A little boy, already seemingly aware that people and relationships in your life matter more than your possessions.

Xander has a sense of ownership of something he is playing with and can sometimes find sharing toys with others, especially his baby brother difficult through frustration that they might wreck his game. However socially Xander will invite children of a similar age to play with him and likes to play with other children. He especially likes close family adults to play with him and shows genuine beaming happiness when involved in 1:1 play. 

Xander understands the concept of taking turns and will usually willingly take turns with other children when the taking turns boundaries and expectations are set and modelled by an adult. Xander has an emerging understanding of what is fair or not fair. Xander is on the whole a gentle little boy, appropriately showing affection and concern for others. Xander rarely displays aggressive behaviour but usually instantly demonstrates remorse after an incident. He is fiercely protective of his brother and often tells his family members that he loves them. 

Xander is becoming more and more aware of the special days of himself and others, for example birthday celebrations. Xander was especially excited and eager to share the Mother’s Day card he had made in school.

Language, Literacy and Communication
Xander is starting to understand and follow simple instructions.  He increasingly wants to join in songs and nursery rhymes, especially actions song and finger rhymes. He repeats the names of familiar objects.  Xander particularly enjoys singing along to The Wheels on the Bus, Never Smile at a Crocodile, Twinkle Star, 5 Little Men in a Flying Saucer and Dingle Dangle Scarecrow.

Xander is beginning to follow stories read to him and he is starting to respond in a suitable way. Xander thoroughly enjoys sharing books and stories. He looks at books with adults and by himself. Xander can anticipate key words, rhymes and events in a familiar story and is able to ‘read’ and re-tell the key points of familiar stories back to an adult. Xander can often be found ‘reading’ stories to his little brother and can use the pictures in a book to tell you what is happening in the story. Xander is beginning to distinguish between the pictures in a book and the words.

Xander is starting to ‘draw’ using his preferred hand and experiment with mark-making. Xander doesn’t naturally gravitate towards mark-making and drawing activities but enjoys participating in an adult initiated activity. Xander shows increasing control when ‘writing’ with tools such as crayons, pencils or chalk. Xander especially enjoys mark-making activities with paint. Xander can confidently write the X for his name and shows pride in his efforts. Xander is beginning to draw his representation of people and animals.

Xander can identify a fair number of sounds/letters and enjoys playing with his foam letter sounds in the bath. Xander shows he is aware or letters and print in the environment, pointing out the sounds he can see in street signs or car number plates for example. Xander often finds the letter symbols that are of particular importance to him in his surroundings; for example X for Xander, m for Mummy, d for Daddy and z for Zac.  Xander has even been known to spot an X in the sky for Xander where two planes have crossed each other!

Mathematical Development
Xander shows an awareness of number activities. He recognises the symbols for numbers from 1 to 9. (0-12 and emerging to 15). The number 3 is of particular importance to him and he often refers to 3 as his birthday number. Xander has an early understanding of ‘one more’ and can usually tell you which number comes after a given number between 1 and 10.

He usually anticipates and joins in with familiar number rhymes and songs. Xander’s favourite number songs include 5 Little Men in a Flying Saucer and 5 Little Ducks. He counts up to three objects reliably. (up to ten objects reliably). Xander enjoys counting within his play and enjoys exploring his early understanding of number through practical activities such as helping to lay the table; counting how many people there are, then deciding how many forks, knifes, spoons etc he will need to make sure everyone has one of each. He regularly holds up the number of fingers to emphasise how many of something there is. Xander is beginning to join in board games appropriately, structured and modelled by an adult. He is concentrating for lengthening periods and starting to grasp the concept of moving a given number of spaces on the board as indicated by the number on the dice rolled.  

He is starting to show interest in the position of objects and the relationship between them. Xander is exploring his understanding of early measure; he is able to make comparisons between objects based on their size and can identify the biggest, middle and smallest of a set of three objects. He can transfer this skill into other spontaneous observations, for example stating that Daddy is the biggest, Mummy the middle sized and Xander the smallest.  Xander experiments with how objects fit together, for example building his Toot Toot train track.

Xander is just learning to sort and match objects or pictures by recognising similarities. Xander enjoys picture matching games such as picture bingo and can match picture to picture. Xander can complete 48+ piece puzzles with minimal support if any from an adult, looking out for the similarities in puzzle pieces to match them together. Xander can sort and match by colour, beginning to follow early sequences – for example building a Duplo tower based on the colour sequence of another previously made tower. Xander can name and find simple 2-D shapes such as a circle, triangle, square and rectangle.

Xander is beginning to understand the routine and name the days of the week, associating days with key events that regularly happen on those days, e.g. he knows he goes to Lollipops café on a Tuesday, swimming on a Wednesday, a day with Bampi on his own on a Wednesday, Nana and Bampi on a Thursday and Friday and church on a Sunday. He classifies his week through school and non-school days and has an emerging understanding of past (yesterday), present (today) and future (tomorrow).

Xander understands that money is used to pay for things in a shop.

Welsh Language Development
Xander is just learning to repeat some familiar words and phrases. He increasingly begins to join in action song and finger rhymes. Xander didn’t know a single word of welsh when he started school in January. He enjoys being able to say a few words in welsh now and will use the word Diolch (Thankyou) at home and tells me it is Welsh. He has sometimes appeared to be singing a song in welsh from school too. He is clearly taking on the board the use of incidental welsh during his mornings at school. Xander enjoys playing a welsh app on the iPad at home and can accurately identify colour names in Welsh.

Xander is beginning to look at books with or without an adult and show an interest in their content.

Knowledge and Understanding of the World
Xander is starting to show he knows about daily routines. Xander has familiar routines at home which mark different times of the day; for example a consistent getting up and going to bed routine. He knows the difference between day and night. Xander is aware of different meal-times throughout the day. Xander has settled well into the ‘going to school’ routine and enjoys to tell us about his day, who and what he has played with at school.

 Xander usually recognises himself and familiar people in pictures or stories. Through adult encouragement, he is beginning to communicate about the things he has made, such as models or pictures. Xander is starting to sort objects into simple categories. He is just learning to explore objects and material in environments that are familiar and close by. Xander loves explorative play and can describe objects by their predominant property, using descriptive words such as smooth, rough, hard, soft, bumpy, spikey, etc.  Xander has appeared to especially enjoy the sand table, water tray and playdough table in school this year.

Xander especially enjoyed the Shopping and Transport topics in school this year, we’ve heard most about these topics at home. He enjoyed a visit to the Bakery with his Mummy and Daddy, getting to choose and pay for his own cake; and of course eating it! The week he bought home a shopping trolley pictures with foods he had glued onto it, we visited a supermarket, and used his picture from school as a shopping list. Xander found the real foods in the shop and put them into a real trolley. He helped to pay for them at the checkout. 

Xander’s imaginative construction play has come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks and he has experimented with his creations of hot air balloons, planes, cars, trains and boats with his Duplo. Xander will experience bus and train rides during the summer and will visit the Bristol Balloon fiesta in early August to consolidate and support his learning experiences at school.

Xander is noticing the differences between himself and others and is beginning to ask thoughtful and observant questions, for example, why does Daddy have a beard? He is aware of the differences between men and women and knows that he is a little boy. 

He has an emerging understanding of life cycle and knows that he used to be a baby but now he is a big boy.  He has an emerging understanding that babies grow in Mummy’s tummies and are born. He particularly enjoyed meeting his baby cousin recently and was ever so gentle and completely mesmerised by how small he was. He knows that some people are older than others and that his Grandma (Great) is very old!

Physical Development
Xander is just learning to recognise and use different pieces of equipment when he plays with other people. Xander can build a six-block tower (six-block plus tower, using bricks, cups or Duplo). He is beginning to be able to send and receive an object. He is starting to handle and investigate physical things by pulling, stretching and squeezing them. He is just learning to pass through, around or over large obstacles and be able to jump and land safely. He is beginning to pedal tricycles, bicycles and cars. Xander especially loves his scooter and is becoming quite the Whiz on it – flying down the path and beginning to learn to control stopping the scooter using the brake rather than his feet. Xander is learning to throw, bounce, kick, roll and catch a ball and enjoys playing ball in his Grandma’s (Great) garden with Daddy and brother.

Xander enjoys physical play such as crawling around furniture, or through a tunnel. He enjoys stepping stone games and jumps from cushion to cushion on the floor. Xander loves to visit the park and is confident using the swings, slides, tunnels and climbing frames.

At the moment Xander is exploring his sense of balance; seeking to walk along curbs, walls and benches in the environment when out and about.

Xander is a busy little boy who equally loves to go wild outdoors as he does to sit in quiet play.

Xander absolutely loved Sport’s Day and took parts in a range of activities that required him to throw, balance, skip, jump, run and navigate obstacles. He has been excited to tell us all about Sport’s Day practices and the exercise he was doing in school. We  were hugely proud of his effort and participation in Sport’s Day. Completely heart swelling!

Xander is still learning to run in a more mature style and continues to develop his co-ordination, controlled body movements, gross and fine motor skills, as well as his sensory awareness but most of all developing his confidence in all areas.

Creative Development
Xander is starting to exercise some control in mark-making and pattern-making with his fingers and tools. He enjoys handling, investigating and exploring materials or resources. Xander loves to paint and create pictures and is always proud when a piece of his art work is framed on our art wall at home. He will tell you about the picture he has made and what he used to make it. He usually has very clear ideas about what colours he wants to paint with and clearly favours the colour pink in his work! 

Xander explores a range of things that make sounds and experiments with making sounds, including shaking, striking and scraping. He begins to recognise familiar music. He often responds to simple musical routines by joining in or moving to the music, broadly imitating actions, sounds and words. Xander is starting to travel, jump and land and to hold still positions.  Xander can sing along to many nursery rhymes and often requests his CDs on in the car. He remembers the words of familiar songs and is broadly starting to sing with a resemblance of tune and intonation. He also enjoys dancing along to music with an emerging sense of rhythm and is can recognise the difference between fast and slow music when there is a marked difference. 

Xander enjoys experimenting with instruments, especially his keyboard where he likes to record his own tunes and compositions and sing into the microphone. Xander shows interest in a range of genres of music including popular music and some interesting classical compositions; for example recently enjoying the Cuckoo section from Carnival of the Animals and requesting to listen to it again.

So there we have it. His school report and everything else teacher Mummy would want it to say (and probably so much more too!)

I agonised over the decision to send Xander to nursery class at school two terms early as a rising 3, but at the end of the school year I’m so glad we did. He is blossoming and school has started off as a really positive experience for him. He’s flying and hope he enjoys his Foundation Phase years, much more than anything else.

We’re so exceptionally proud of you Xander!
Sunday, 5 July 2015

We Got Through Another June

Another June has rolled into another July. All of a sudden my life seems calmer once more. 

Each year I react harder, more violently than the last, more chaotic than the last. The further we move away from June 2010 the less able I seem to be able to cope with present day in June. To top it all off this year I even had food poisoning (confirmed Campylobactor) in the week before Anabelle's birthday. Oh how the world kicks you a little more when you're already low. 

She should be five. I wonder what our five year old little girl would be like. Would she be as in love with Disney princess' as I imagine? Would she be a Frozen fan like every other little girl we seem to know? Who would be her favourite? Would she be a little ballerina or gymnast or something else I would never have thought of. 

I wish I knew her, knew her as she should be now. 

I keep looking at Alexander just 16 months younger than she should be, watching how grown up he seems these days and wondering how much grown up she would seem than him even with their small age gap. The leaps between each birthday are so enormous and I ache for our little girl. 

Instead her birthday was filled with usual rituals and routines; there were balloons and flowers and garden decorations. This year was garden fairy themed and we bought a wishing well planter for her little garden fairy to live in. Another birthday feeling emotionally exhausted and never feeling like anything we do is enough. Because it shouldn't be this way. Garden centres instead of toy shops. 

This year my absolutely beside myself day was the Friday, two days before her birthday. 

This year it was utterly triggered by fear.  Fear that my new niece or nephew would be born on Anabelle's birthday. Fear that it, my grief was going to rip my family apart. Fear that I was not going to be understood, allowed to grieve for what was lost, or to find my way through June. Fear that more relationships that were important to me were going to be irreparably damaged and I'd have even less people to trust. Fear, because past experience taught me in a similar situation two years ago, that is just what would happen. Only is wasn't family. 

So I spent six months agonising about my sister-in-laws due date, days after Belle's birthday with my first nephew born a few days early. Sometimes I felt agonised to the point where I felt at a crisis point about it. I distanced myself from it, from them, keeping the whole situation at arms length, the elephant in the room where I couldn't even talk about it. Self-preservation, not knowing how to handle myself or handle it. 

Most upsetting in the distance was the comparison to how closely we'd shared our previous pregnancies two years ago, with those due-dates two days apart, and the boys eventually born two weeks and twenty two minutes apart. 

I didn't want it to be like this, but neither did I feel strong enough to face my fears. To face me, myself and I. 

Anabelle's birthday came and went and there was no baby; and suddenly those fears dissipated.  

Six months of fear and heaviness lifted and genuinely I now felt ready to welcome this new baby. So I did what I should've done, should've faced months and months earlier; I let my brother and SIL know how I'd been feeling, and let them know I was ready to be an Auntie. I apologised that I'd been distant or if they'd felt like I hadn't been interested, that I loved them, but that simply I'd spent all those months choked with fear and couldn't handle it. 

I was pretty nervous of the response. 

But you know what, I should've trusted them all along. Because they had accepted my fear, gracefully respected the space I had created, understood it, understood me, worried themselves of the dates too even, accepted me and my grief and how utterly hard June is, how spectacularly I struggle to cope and loved me anyway.  

A simple exchange that gave me permission to just be how I needed to be knowing they would still love me anyway. That acceptance made me feel so much stronger than I had in so long and even leaving me feeling on the road to post-birthday recovery before we hit July.

And so that is healing. Being loved and accepted anyway.

My new nephew was born a few days later, the day after his due date, within a week of Anabelle's birthday, and it felt absolutely ok.  We met him this weekend and he is so beautiful, so much like Zac when he was born (you can definitely tell they're cousins) and has made me incredibly broody for another little Morgan tiny! 

Another year where I spiralled through June, but I definitely took steps forward too. 

Our three babies, altogether. 

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After Anabelle - Raising Rainbows. I'm Caz, Mummy to beautiful angel Belle and my wonderful rainbow boys, Xander, Zachy and Luc. Wife to Jon. Twitter @cazem Instagram @cazzyem
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